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Hillites on Washington-watch today for Trudeau and Trump’s first meeting

By Rachel Aiello      

From MPs watching the press conference during Question Period, to the sizeable contingent of press gallery reporters that travelled with the prime minister, the Canada-U.S. bilateral meeting was the talk of Parliament Hill today.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump made a number of televised appearances throughout the day. Screenshot courtesy of the CBC's broadcast

Around the Hill, all eyes were on Washington today as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump met for the first time face-to-face at the White House.

The meeting dominated political coverage, thanks in part to the sizeable contingent of Parliamentary Press Gallery reporters that travelled with Mr. Trudeau. The Hill Times noted that in many offices on and around the Hill—and even on the devices of some MPs in the House of Commons during Question Period—politicos couldn’t take their eyes off the two world leaders.

Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump made a number of televised appearances throughout the day, including Mr. Trudeau’s West Wing arrival; the initial handshake before bilateral meetings in the Oval Office; and at a roundtable discussion with women executives, but the joint press conference the pair held at 2 p.m. eastern captured many Hillites attention.

In the House of Commons, where most MPs were already in their seats for Question Period when the joint news conference began, The Hill Times spotted many MPs with their phones and tablets our refreshing Twitter, and at least two—Conservative MPs Dean Allison (Niagara West, Ont.) and Ted Falk (Provencher, Man.)—could be seen from the viewing gallery watching the live stream of the event.

No one on the government side could be spotted scoping out the event, but in MPs’ offices, ministers’ offices, and in departmental headquarters around the precinct, the televisions were tuned to it, The Hill Times learned.

“Everyone is very interested, it’s one of those things that once we’re out of our meetings and everything, we’re going to be looking very closely to see what’s happened,” Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson (Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, Man.) told The Hill Times. He said that while he’d been in meetings most of the day, he was making plans to spend the evening catching up on all that went down.

While the fifth floor cafeteria kept with the daily habit of having the television tuned to CPAC, inside the Hot Room, journalists inside had it on and were watching intently, as their colleagues peppered the leaders with questions.

A number of Parliamentary Press Gallery members travelled with Mr. Trudeau and his team to Washington, or were sent there earlier on to cover the meeting. The contingent included: the Toronto Star’s Tonda MacCharles; CBC’s Katie Simpson, Aaron Wherry, and Catherine Cullen; The Globe and Mail’s Bob Fife and Campbell Clark; Global News’ Vassy Kapelos; CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson; Radio-Canada’s Emmanuelle Latraverse; The Huffington Post’s Althia Raj; Canadian Press’ Terry Pedwell; Bloomberg’s Josh Wingrove; and The Wall Street Journal’s Ottawa correspondent, Paul Vieira.

Following Question Period, the opposition was ready to offer their take on how the meetings had gone, in their view.

“Everybody is remaining calm, which is the right thing to do,” said Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose (Sturgeon River-Parkland, Alta.). But, she added, “let’s not fool ourselves. Something’s going to happen around trade… The bigger issue here is what the Americans do affects us in a big way, and we need to reassess the fact that we are leading this country down an uncompetitive path.”

Before coming out to speak to the media, Ms. Ambrose was quickly briefed by her staff, who watched the press conference while she was questioning the government in the House.

“I think it’s obvious that our relationship with the United States is paramount… And it’s not just about the relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Trudeau; it’s about relationships between our administrations. It’s also our relationships between our business sectors, between all of our legislators, lawmakers,” said Ms. Ambrose.

Similarly, a trio of NDP critics—Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.) critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship; Hélène Laverdière (Laurier-Sainte Marie, Que.), the critic for Foreign Affairs; and Matthew Dubé (Beloeil - Chambly, Que.), critic for Public Safety—read the joint statement released by Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump just minutes before Question Period got underway. They then put their heads together with their communications staff before coming out to express their disappointment that Mr. Trudeau did not “do his job” as Ms. Kwan put it, and stand up to Mr. Trump more strongly to defend Canadian values like climate change, or speak out about the U.S. travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

“In a first meeting, and you don’t need to be aggressive or anything, but in a first meeting you have to state clearly what you believe in, and what are your interests,” said Ms. Laverdière.

In the joint statement released, the two North American leaders re-affirmed the shared interests of Canada and the U.S., including jobs and infrastructure growth; securing energy resources; border security; and military contributions.

Mr. Trudeau’s top aides, including chief of staff Katie Telford, principal secretary Gerald Butts, director of communications Kate Purchase, policy director Mike McNair, and head of the PMO’s U.S. “war room,” Brian Clow, accompanied him on this trip.

Ministers that joined Mr. Trudeau for the visit were Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.), Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.), Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale (Regina-Wascana, Sask.), and Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.)

During the roundtable with women entrepreneurs, Ms. Freeland, Ms. Telford, and Ms. Purchase were in attendance, as was Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who sat next to Mr. Trudeau. The two countries announced afterwards that it will be creating a Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders.

Later in the day, Mr. Trudeau went to the U.S. Capitol building to meet with Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, before departing for Ottawa at 6 p.m.

“The partnership enjoyed by Canada and the United States has been essential to our shared prosperity and security, and has long served as a model for the rest of the world. I had a productive meeting with President Trump and members of the U.S. administration, and I look forward to working together to create more opportunities for the middle class on both sides of the border,” said Mr. Trudeau in a statement on Monday evening.

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