Robert Fife summarizes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent official state visit to Washington, with a focus on the apparently close relationship that is developing between him and President Barack Obama.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, history

Key Question to Explore:

  • What benefits might accrue from Prime Minister Trudeau’s state visit to Washington?

New Terminology:

State visit,  Rose Garden, ideological, hydrofluorocarbons

Materials Needed:

Globe article

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent state visit to Washington drew significant attention in the United States and Canada. It was the first such visit since former Prime Minster Jean Chretien was invited 19 years ago, and the positive responses it elicited from the American President and from the press who covered it could indicate a marked change from the cool relationship that existed between Mr. Obama and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The media report that important business between the two countries was discussed and that these visits serve to help resolve issues between the countries as well as to advance common interests. Critics might say that they are little more than an opportunity for good publicity photos for both parties. However, some would argue that good personal relations between the two countries’ leaders also bode well for relations between the countries themselves.

Students can benefit from a lesson on this relatively rare state visit and on the merits of “bonding” between our two countries’ leaders. A short general class discussion will set up a writing assignment that can be completed for homework.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a discussion about the recent state visit of Justin Trudeau to the White House, in Washington. Ask who followed any of it on TV or online, what their feelings were about it and how important they think it might be for Canada. To set some context, make sure students are aware of the following historical facts:

  • State visits are by invitation only and they are relatively rare.
  • The last Canadian Prime Minister to be invited to a Washington state visit was Prime Minister Jean Chretien 19 years ago.
  • Over his 10-year period as prime minister, Stephen Harper was not invited to Washington for a state visit.
  • State visits are highly formal in structure and nature, because they showcase the official relationships between the two countries at the highest level.
  • Usually state visits involve a set of official objectives concerning trade, security and other mutual interests which are then announced at the conclusion of the visit.
  • Often announcements of deals and agreements made after a state visit represent the culmination of months or years of prior work by officials of both governments.
  • State visits to Washington culminate in a formal state dinner at the White House.

You may wish to provide students with links to Internet sources that describe the overall purpose of state visits in more detail. Or, simply provide students with a copy of the accompanying article by Robert Fife and assign them a written report in which they address the following questions and tasks:

  • Describe and explain how state visits come to be, who invites whom, and what kinds of events they involve.
  • How long was Prime Minister Trudeau in office before he was invited to Washington for a state visit?
  • How did Mr. Trudeau return the gesture, in terms of inviting Mr. Obama to Canada?
  • List four key initiatives that President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau agreed on, according to their official announcements. Indicate how each represents progress toward a specific goal.
  • Which of these initiatives do you think is the most important and why? Which is important to you, if any?
  • What was it about the visit that lead Mr. Fife to conclude that Mr. Obama and Mr. Trudeau “bonded”?
  • Mr. Fife suggests that the two leaders share similar political leanings. How would you describe these and how does they contrast to the “ideology”  of former Prime Minister Harper and Former President George W. Bush?
  • Do you think that a close personal relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau can be beneficial for Canada or do you think it is mostly about what some might call “good photo ops”? (Opportunities for photos that make one or both parties in the photos look good to their constituents)
  • If you watched any of the visit online or on TV, how did you feel about the way Canada was welcomed in Washington? What was it about the event that made you feel that way?
  • As a bonus question: Who won the Stanley Cup last year and why was this used as a joke by Mr. Obama during one of his speeches?

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Students discuss their assignments in the subsequent class session(s)
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students deliver a written report that addresses the tasks appropriately.

Confirming Activity:

  • Consider having students follow up on relations between Canada and the United States, playing particular attention to Mr. Obama’s scheduled visit to Canada