President Joe Biden will make a long-delayed visit to Canada on Thursday where he’ll shore up his relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau amid the thorny issues of defense spending and migration at the northern border.
In the 24-hour whirlwind trip, Biden will hold a bilateral meeting with the prime minister, address Canada’s Parliament and hold a press conference with Trudeau.
‘It’s quite a packed schedule for a short trip,’ National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.
The trip is about reassuring America’s close ally of their importance and stressing unity on Ukraine but there are underlying issues causing tenions, including migration on the northern border, Canada’s reduced defense spending, and how to help Haiti.
President Joe Biden, seen with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Mexico in January, heads to Canada on Thursday for a quick trip to America’s northern neighbor
President Biden’s schedule for Canada
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive in Ottawa, Canada in the evening.
They will meet with Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada, and His Excellency Whit Fraser.
They will have a private dinner with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.
President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau hold a bilateral meeting.
Biden addresses the Canadian Parliament. Jill Biden attends.
Biden and Trudeau hold a joint press conference.
The Bidens attend a Gala Dinner hosted by the Trudeaus.
The Bidens leave Ottawa for Wilmington, Delaware.
Crossings have increased on the U.S.-Canada border even as the cold weather has made it dangerous with people suffering from hypothermia and exposure as they make their way through the vast, wooden area.
The Swanton Sector, which includes sections of Vermont, New Hampshire and New York, experienced an 846% increase in apprehensions from October 2022 through this January, compared to the year prior.
Canada is also seeing an increase in migrants coming through to their side of the border, particularly at the Roxham Road station.
More than 39,000 refugees entered Canada last year via unofficial crossings, the vast majority via Roxham Road, which links Quebec and New York State.
It is the highest number since 2017 – when there was a spike because of then-President Donald Trump’s crackdown on migrants.
‘It’s not just an issue of migrants crossing from the US to Canada so both countries are motivated to make progress,’ a senior Canadian government official said in a briefing with reporters.
At issue is a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires asylum-seekers already in the US to petition there rather than show up at a Canadian port of entry.
But the policy does not apply to Roxham Road because it’s an unauthorized entry point – literally a road that dead-ends into the border and then picks up on the other side. That is where all these migrants are crossing.
Some Canadians simply want to close Roxham Road.
And, going into the meeting, there are not high hopes for resolution on the migration issue, particularly given the focus in American on crossings at the Southern border.
The prime minister has briefed that to the president the migration issue is a relatively minor issue,’ Professor Adam Chapnick of Canadian Forces College told DailyMail.com.
‘It’s huge here in Canada This prime minister has been good about knowing how to manage US relations and won’t waste his time. I think it has to be mentioned but we won’t get a solution to it.’
Migrants want to cross into Canada at the Roxham Road border crossing
Also at issue is Canada’s defense budget – and if the United States’ neighbor to the north is contributing enough to both NORAD and NATO.
NORAD was a product of the Cold War, with the vast amount of money funding the defensive project – meant to detect Soviet bombers – coming from the United States.
But it slowly turned into a binational operation. The commander of NORAD can be from the American or Canadian armed forces, and he or she reports to both the prime minister and the president.
Most Americans know of NORAD through its yearly ‘Santa Tracker’ but the recent incursion of the Chinese spy balloon put the Cold War-era agency back in the spotlight.
Last year, Trudeau’s government promised $4.9 billion in Canadian dollars (which is $3.6 billion) over the next six years to modernize the defensive system.
The two leaders are likely to discuss if that is enough. But a senior Canadian official said the conversation is ‘between friends and partners and allies. There’s no anger or upset or sense of crisis.’
‘The issue of the Chinese spy balloon was a good reminder for all of us that we need to continue to make sure that, when it comes to our defensive capabilities, particularly our air defensive capabilities that we are at the cutting edge all the time,’ Kirby said on Wednesday.
‘So modernization of air defense capabilities and certainly in NORAD, specifically, is something that we never take for granted or we’re always looking to improve that. You can see a lot of that embedded in the in the Defense Department’s budget.’
American presidents have long pushed Canada to spend more on its military, including Barack Obama in 2016 and Donald Trump in 2019, particularly when it comes to NATO spending.
For all the NATO nations, Canada is sixth from the bottom in terms of national defence commitments. NATO members are supposed to spend 2% of its national gross domestic product on defence. Canada spends about 1.5%.
A U.S. Air Force U-2 pilot looks down at the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon before it was shot down
A person carries a child past Haitian National Police attempting to repel gangs in Port-au-Prince
Haiti also remains a big issue between Canada and United States.
The Biden administration wants Canada to lead a multinational force into Haiti to assist it in its battle against gang control.
In October, the United States proposed a resolution at the United Nations Security Council for the deployment of a rapid-action, multinational force to Haiti to help nation’s police break the stranglehold of armed gangs.
Since the beginning of the year, 531 people have been killed, 300 wounded and 277 kidnapped in gang-related violence in Haiti.
The U.S. had hoped Canada would step up but Trudeau does not seem eager.
‘The United States wants to talk about Haiti more than Canada does,’ Professor Chapnick noted.
Trade issues also are expected to be discussed.
The dairy market is an issue as the U.S. thinks Canada is still not meeting obligations to open its market to American producers.
Canada, meanwhile, is worried about American subsidies for the U.S. electric vehicle and semiconductor manufacturing. Ottawa is expected to respond with its own incentives for clean energy and manufacturing.
At the same time, the US is looking to Canada to supply the critical minerals and rare-earth elements needed to make electric vehicle batteries, as the Biden administration tries to reduce dependence on adversaries like China for crucial raw materials.
Meanwhile, Canada has robust market in critical minerals that the U.S. needs to make electric vehicle batteries. Washington would like access to it particularly as Biden tries to cut back on dependence on China for such materials.
U.S. presidents traditionally make their first international trip to Canada but delays – partially caused by COVID – mean Biden has already visited almost 20 other nations first.
He held his first bilateral meeting as president with Trudeau but it was virtually.
The two men did met in person in January at the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City.