U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that he must be a champion of the "liberal international order" at a time when rules-based global relations and openness are under attack.
The always jovial U.S. politician, in Ottawa for a two-day visit, was the star guest at a Canadian state dinner Thursday.
His opening remarks – full of bonhomie and self-deprecating humour – turned serious near the end when Mr. Biden, whose Obama administration is due to leave office in six weeks, called on his Canadian host to be a global leader for the system of rules and norms that have existed since the late 1940s.
This has come under threat with recent events, from Russia's 2014 invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, Britain's decision to quit the European Union and the recent success of political movements in Italy who are pushing for that country to leave the euro zone.
Mr. Biden did not mention the surprise victory of populist Donald Trump in the November U.S. presidential elections. But Mr. Trump has said he plans to withdraw the United States from a pan-Pacific trade deal that would have established North American trading rules in Asia as a counterweight to Chinese influence in the region.
Canada, by contrast, just completed a trade deal with the European Union.
The U.S. Vice-President warned that Europe is now in trouble.
"There are periods [in history] where the number of genuine leaders … is in short supply and where they are in heavy supply," Mr. Biden said, pausing for a moment.
"I have never seen … Europe engaged in as much self doubt as they are now," added Mr. Biden, who has been in U.S. politics for four decades.
"The world is going to spend a lot of time looking to you Mr. Prime Minister as we see more and more challenges to the liberal international order than any time since the end of World War Two," he said. "You and Angela Merkel," added Mr. Biden, a reference to the German chancellor.
"There is a lot of soul searching going on in Europe and you saw some of it in my country."
He said he remains confident that North America can help the world get through this period, citing current Canada-U.S. co-operation. "It's going to take men like you Mr. Prime Minister," he said, noting leadership will be needed to ensure that international relations continue "within the context of a liberal economic order."
"We're standing together right now facing down [Islamic State] in Syria, in Iraq, bolstering our allies in Eastern Europe, particularly Latvia, combatting climate change … the most consequential issue of our generation," the Vice-President said.
"Vive le Canada … because we need you very badly."
Mr. Biden recalled how former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin's father, consoled him over the death of his first wife and child. "Your dad not only was decent and honourable but he reached out and commiserated with me about the loss of my wife and daughter."
Mr. Biden's visit to Ottawa continues Friday when he will attend a welcoming ceremony on Parliament Hill, meet privately with Mr. Trudeau and then attend a roundtable discussion with the Prime Minister, provincial premiers and aboriginal leaders from across Canada who are here for a first ministers meeting.
It's unclear what Mr. Biden hoped to achieve with a visit to Ottawa in wintry December in the lame-duck period of the Barack Obama administration.
Speaking before the dinner Thursday, Mr. Trudeau sold the visit as a chance to keep Canada-U.S. ties on the front burner.
"It's important to keep talking about the strong relationship between Canada and the U.S., and all the things we can do to continue to make sure that it benefits both of the citizens of our great countries."
Mr. Biden's farewell visit comes amid a pivotal time as the relationship between Ottawa and Washington threatens to grow chilly.
A new Canada-U.S. softwood lumber war has begun, with hefty duties on Canadian shipments expected to hit within months – measures that will affect thousands of Canadians. Mr. Trump has threatened to rip up NAFTA – the incoming right-of-centre Trump administration is also unlikely to find much common ground on fighting climate change with the Trudeau government. The New York Times calls Scott Pruitt, Mr. Trump's pick for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a "key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama's climate-change policies."
Conservative MPs had raised concerns that the visit by the Vice-President of the departing Obama administration could jeopardize relations with the incoming administration.
In an interview with CNN Thursday, Mr. Biden played down the chances he could have won the 2016 presidential election if he had been the Democratic Party candidate, saying the Republicans would "probably have eaten me alive" if he had decided to run.