IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Biden holds first bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau

"U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years," Trudeau told Biden in a thinly veiled shot at former President Trump.
Image: President Biden holds videoconference with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau at the White House in Washington
President Joe Biden joins a video conference call with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from the White House on Feb. 23, 2021.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden held the first bilateral meeting of his presidency Tuesday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as the two leaders seek to rebound the U.S.-Canada relationship after a strained alliance under former President Donald Trump.

The two leaders, who met virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, projected optimism for the future and expressed their commitment to working together to solve a number of issues including Covid-19, climate change and rising inequality.

"Thank you again for stepping up in such a big way on tackling climate change, U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years," Trudeau told Biden in public remarks ahead of the meeting.

"And I have to say, as we're preparing the joint rollout and communiqué from this one, it's nice when the Americans are not pulling out all references to climate change and, instead, adding them in."

Biden, speaking at the White House after the bilateral concluded, said the meeting was "the first of what I am sure will be many close and cooperative sessions." Biden said that they agreed that tackling Covid-19 was the "immediate priority."

Biden also said that the U.S. and Canada were launching a "high level climate ambition ministerial" with a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and that the two countries agreed to modernize the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

Biden restated his commitment to helping Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadian citizens who were detained in China in 2018 in an apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a top Huawei executive.

"Human Beings are not bartering chips," Biden said. "We are going to work together until we get their safe return."

Neither leader mentioned some of the thornier issues that have come up since Biden took office, such as the president's decision to halt the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and Canada's struggle to acquire enough Covid-19 vaccines.

Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, special climate envoy John Kerry, Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients, along with other administration officials, also participated in the meeting, according to the White House.

The U.S. and Canada, who share the world’s longest border, have deeply rooted ties but their relationship was tested under the Trump administration.

Trump imposed a number of tariffs on Canada early on in his presidency, prompting Trudeau to retaliate. When Trudeau raised objections to the tariffs in 2018, Trump called him "dishonest" and "weak." Trump lashed out at Trudeau again in 2019, calling the Canadian prime minister "two-faced" after Trudeau was caught on a hot-mic at a NATO summit discussing with other world leaders Trump's lengthy press conferences.

Trudeau was the first world leader to congratulate Biden after the presidential election was called in his favor.

Trudeau opened his remarks after Tuesday's meeting mentioning Texas, where winter storms have killed dozens and left millions without power and water.

"Let me begin by saying that all of us are thinking of our friends in Texas right now," he said. "I know SaskPower has been sending electricity down, and as I told the president, Canada is here to help."

Bidens's first bilateral meeting as president would normally have taken place in person at the White House with a press conference that includes journalists from both countries but it was held remotely because of the pandemic. Although both leaders gave remarks after the meeting, they declined to take questions from the press, breaking with tradition.

"The United States has no closer and no more important friend than Canada. Our nations share close geography and history that will forever bind us together," Biden said. "When we work together, as the closest of friends should, we only make each other stronger."