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Biden and Trudeau toast to friendship, hope and family at gala dinner

OTTAWA — U.S. President Joe Biden stayed in Ottawa during his short trip north of the border, but the catering team from the National Arts Centre took him on a cross-Canada culinary tour Friday evening.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden after his address during a state dinner in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA — U.S. President Joe Biden stayed in Ottawa during his short trip north of the border, but the catering team from the National Arts Centre took him on a cross-Canada culinary tour Friday evening. 

The president and first lady Jill Biden were the guests of honour at a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum.

Before dinner, the two leaders toasted the continued friendship and strong ties between the two nations. 

Trudeau, who spoke first for about nine minutes, cracked jokes about Canadian celebrities in the room who became famous after working in the United States — including actors Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara and Hayden Christiansen. 

"Joe and Jill, you may not know this, but there's a proud tradition amongst Canadians where we watch movies and television and nod knowingly to each other, saying, 'Americans don't know this, but we know they're Canadian,'" Trudeau said.

He also spoke about what has changed since Biden was last in Ottawa in 2016 when he was vice-president to Barack Obama. Trudeau highlighted Canada's efforts on climate change, in protecting reproductive rights and in creating affordable childcare. 

"New threats to liberal democracy loom on the horizon, and we are united in our efforts to protect our countries and what we stand for," he said.

Trudeau closed by toasting "to shared history and shared hope, to shared prosperity and to the shared peace and security that binds Canada and the United States together as allies, as neighbours, and most importantly, as true friends."

In his three-minute toast, the president also spoke about shared hope, and said he's optimistic about the future and proud of "our shared past." 

"I mean this from the bottom of my heart, we're more than neighbours," he said. "We're more than partners, we're more than friends."

"We're more like family."

Biden raised his glass of water and toasted "to family, to Canada and to the United States."

The meal, which was put together by executive chef Kenton Leier, featured ingredients such as East Coast yellowfin tuna, Alberta beef, flaxseed, Quebec maple syrup and Yukon gold potatoes.

The three courses also included a cabernet sauvignon jus made with wine from Pelee Island Winery in Kingsville, Ont., and a rum caramel made of Newfoundland's famous Screech rum.

Because it wasn't an official state dinner, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and her husband, Whit Fraser, were relieved of hosting duties — though both attended.

The more than 350 people on the guest list included cabinet ministers, members of Parliament and leaders from Canada's business community. 

The Prime Minister's Office said all opposition party leaders were invited, along with former prime ministers, former ambassadors to Canada and the U.S. and members of the prime minister's NAFTA advisory council. 

Jean Chrétien and Joe Clark were in the room, along with former envoys Bruce Heyman, James Blanchard, Gordon Giffin, David Jacobson and David MacNaughton.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor also attended as guests of the prime minister.

Earlier Friday, the two received a standing ovation in the House of Commons ahead of Biden's address to Parliament. It was their first public appearance since their release from Chinese detention in 2021.

The two were detained for more than 1,000 days, charged with spying offences in apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 at the request of the U.S. government.

National Indigenous organizations were represented by Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed, and Métis National Council president Cassidy Caron.

Claudette Commanda, an Algonquin Anishinaabe elder from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation and chancellor of the University of Ottawa, gave an opening prayer.

There were performances by the Métis Jiggers and Inuit throat singers. Biden, Trudeau, Simon and their spouses entered on a red carpet with an Algonquin drum group called Eagle River accompanying them.

Other celebrity guests included filmmaker Sarah Polley, comedian Mark Critch and musician Alan Doyle.

The occasion did not escape the partisan bickering that so often takes over Parliament Hill.

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre dined with Trudeau and Biden, but his attendance had been in doubt earlier Friday, with his office saying it had no record of receiving an invitation.

The Prime Minister's Office insisted that Poilievre was invited via email on March 15 and 19, and said he was still welcome. But the email was sent to an inactive account for Poilievre, which returns an automated response saying it is not monitored.

Before that got sorted out, Poilievre's office accused the PMO of "playing childish games."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press