Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to the White House on Thursday – an event that concludes with the first state dinner for a Canadian leader in 19 years – is political theatre at its finest. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Mr. Trudeau and President Barack Obama will discuss issues that have already been discussed by their respective officials, agree to things that have already been agreed to, and then announce those agreements in a press conference whose script has most likely already been written.
At the official dinner, the two leaders will toast each other and the long friendship between their two countries – one of the most remarkable international friendships in history. It will be a lively, glamorous event, with two charismatic and ideologically compatible leaders sharing a head table together.
For Canadians, all of this is a good thing. Diplomatic relations run smoother when leaders share personal ties. It worked for Brian Mulroney, the Conservative prime minister who developed a close friendship with Republican president Ronald Reagan. Former Liberal PM Jean Chrétien was a frequent golf partner of Democratic president Bill Clinton.
Canadians should remember, though, that the health of their country's relations with the U.S. is not dependent on the vagaries of personal chumminess.
Some have used Mr. Trudeau's visit to make a point of saying that Mr. Obama had frosty relations with former prime minister Stephen Harper, who was never invited over for dinner. But other than the Keystone XL debacle, and the usual squabbles over softwood lumber that are resurrected every time there is an election in an American state with a forestry industry, Canada-U.S. relations were solid during the Harper years. And as for Keystone, Mr. Obama would have rejected it regardless of who was PM. The President's constituents, donors and interests are all Made In America.
The key bilateral issues for Canada and the U.S. are trade, border security, climate change and fighting terrorism. They are discussed jointly on a constant basis, with occasional small setbacks but few serious ones, regardless of who is in office. Perhaps the greatest testament to our solid relationship with the world's most powerful country is that our leaders don't have to be buddies in order for us to be friends. But all else being equal, it sure doesn't hurt.