- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2016

Gray-haired and losing clout by the day, President Obama will host a vision of his former self this week when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at the White House for meetings on their shared liberal agenda and a state dinner.

The charismatic Mr. Trudeau, 44, is a decade younger than Mr. Obama. Accompanying him will be his media-darling wife, 40-year-old Sophie Gregoire, a former model and TV host. They will be the first Canadian first couple to be honored with a glitzy state dinner since 1997.

The hosts, meanwhile, are counting the days until they leave the White House. Mr. Obama, who enjoyed his own rock-star phase when he burst onto the world stage in 2008 and 2009, now jokes often about his hair turning gray, and the reasons for his rapid aging are plentiful.

Abroad, European allies who once fawned over Mr. Obama are more likely nowadays to criticize his handling of Russian aggression or his failure to take a stronger role in Syria’s 5-year-old civil war, which has produced a humanitarian and refugee crisis of epic proportions.

At home, Mr. Obama is all but an afterthought in Congress, where his federal budget, his plans to fill a Supreme Court vacancy and his proposal to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been met with yawns or derision as the political world turns its attention to picking the president’s successor.

Mr. Trudeau, a former snowboard instructor and nightclub bouncer who is the second-youngest prime minister in Canada’s history, is arriving in Washington armed with much of the newcomer’s potential that Mr. Obama once had. He is the son of longtime Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and the New York Post has dubbed his wife the “hottest first lady in the world.”

In another sign of the passing of the generations, after Thursday’s state dinner when the Obamas will presumably be turning in for the night, the Trudeaus are scheduled to attend an “afterparty” for friends and supporters at the upscale W Hotel.

Mr. Trudeau has even managed to upstage Mr. Obama on the issue of gay rights by announcing that he will march in Toronto’s July 3 gay pride parade alongside Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, the first lesbian premier in Canada.

Asked if Mr. Obama would consider marching in Washington’s gay pride parade this summer for the first time, White House press secretary Josh Earnest could only tell reporters blandly Monday, “I don’t have any scheduling updates for you at this point.”

After ousting conservative leader Stephen Harper in November elections, Mr. Trudeau is hoping to rebuild frayed relations with the U.S. over issues such as climate change and border security. Mr. Harper was an outspoken advocate of the Canada-to-Houston Keystone XL pipeline project, which the Obama administration rejected on environmental grounds.

Mr. Trudeau, like Mr. Obama, is promising to revitalize the Canadian economy by spending billions of dollars on infrastructure and cutting taxes for the middle class.

“We want to strengthen our relationship with the United States at a time when it is key for our agenda of economic growth,” Foreign Minister Stephane Dion said Monday.

Mr. Trudeau offered a simpler goal during a Sunday interview with “60 Minutes” on CBS.

“We’d sometimes like to think that Americans would pay attention to us from time to time,” he said.

Mr. Obama is likely to hold up his Canadian counterpart to Americans as an example of compassionate leadership. Mr. Trudeau has delivered on a pledge to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees amid terrorism fears after the Islamic State-inspired attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino, California, late last year.

In the U.S., Mr. Obama is still facing stiff resistance from lawmakers of both parties in Congress, and from governors, to his program to accept up to 10,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Summit meeting

The two leaders first met at a summit in the Philippines last fall.

“I think we’ve seen the incredible excitement that Justin generated during his campaign in Canada,” Mr. Obama said at the time. “We’re confident that he’s going to be able to provide a great boost of energy and reform to the Canadian political landscape. And we’re looking forward very much to working with him.”

Added Mr. Trudeau, “It’s going to be a wonderful time of strengthening ties between our two countries both on the economic, on the security, on the engagement with the world and on the personal level.”

Nik Nanos, a Canadian pollster, said more Americans have become interested in Canadian politics because of Mr. Trudeau.

“Not all Canadian prime ministers have star power. Justin Trudeau has star power,” Mr. Nanos said.

Trade will be high on the agenda in Thursday’s meetings. Canada sends 75 percent of its exports to the U.S., is a member of Mr. Obama’s cherished Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and is the biggest supplier of oil to the U.S., but the nation to the north has found it hard to stand out in the U.S. policy landscape dominated by wars in the Middle East and a rising challenge from China in Asia.

Canada wants to avoid a fresh trade fight over its softwood lumber exports, and the U.S. will reiterate long-standing concerns about how much information Ottawa shares on terrorism suspects, say officials involved with the talks.

The two sides are also set to sign a declaration committing to the fight against climate change, sources said.

Canada’s not an issue that gets a lot of attention normally,” said a senior U.S. administration official. “[But] I’d be hard-pressed to identify a relationship that’s more important day in, day out, and that affects more Americans day in, day out.”

Mr. Trudeau has a higher profile than any other Canadian leader since his father was in power four decades ago. The New York Times and Vogue magazine are among the U.S. outlets that have run sympathetic profiles about him.

Mr. Trudeau’s visit to the White House should result in a border pact that will remove a series of barriers for travel and trade while improving security, Ralph Goodale, Canadian minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, told Toronto’s Globe and Mail.

Mr. Goodale said officials from both countries are working on an agreement that includes an entry/exit record-sharing system between law enforcement agencies and measures to cut red tape for shippers, such as preclearance at manufacturing plants in Canada.

Even at their first meeting in the Philippines in November, Mr. Obama suggested he was already passing the torch. He told his younger counterpart, “I just want to point out that I had no gray hair when I was in your shoes seven years ago. And so if you don’t want to gray like me, you need to start dyeing it soon [before] it gets too late.”

Mr. Trudeau joked in reply, “So young and yet so cynical.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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