OTTAWA — President Joe Biden evoked memories of John F. Kennedy and the final frontier in an address to Parliament on Friday that promised Canada and the U.S. are better as allies on everything from renewable energy and advanced manufacturing to global migration and the opioids crisis.
"We're living in an age of possibilities," Biden said at the end of a 32-minute speech that was in many ways a Canadianized version of his usual stump speeches at home.
The two countries cannot take each other for granted and do not always agree, the president said, but are still choosing to forge a path together at an "inflection point in history" that will shape the world for decades to come.
That includes, he said, a joint mission back to the Moon, and eventually Mars. NASA will next month announce the names of three Americans and one Canadian for the Artemis II mission, which is supposed to launch a lunar "flyby" in November 24.
"We choose to return to the moon together," Biden said.
Biden's 27-hour stop in Ottawa is his first official visit to Canada as president. He noted, however, that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the first foreign leader with whom he had an official meeting, a month after Biden was sworn into office in January 2021. That meeting was virtual because of COVID-19.
The two have met in person many times at summits and events around the world, and did so again Friday afternoon, before they sat down with several members of their respective cabinets.
As Biden's speech ended the two countries issued a joint statement listing a number of shared priorities, many of them already well underway.
That includes co-operating to modernize the North American Aerospace Defence Command, or Norad. Biden called Norad "an incredible symbol of the faith we have in each other," as the only "binational military command in the world."
The joint statement referenced Canada's previous commitment to spend $6.96 billion on surveillance system modernization in the North and another $7.3 billion toward aircraft, refuelling and airfield improvements ahead of its procurement of F-35 fighter jets.
It notes that Trudeau said the money will come from planned investments.
The statement also confirmed that the Safe Third Country Agreement will be applied between official ports of entry along the entire Canada-United States border, and that Canada will take in 15,000 more migrants from the Western Hemisphere over the next year.
It also promised a new one-year joint energy task force, to be chaired by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and the U.S. special presidential co-ordinator for global infrastructure. The group will focus on renewable energy, electric vehicles, critical minerals and nuclear energy.
Biden and Trudeau jointly condemned Russia's war in Ukraine and said China poses a "serious long-term challenge to the international order."
The spectre of China loomed large over the day, with the presence of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in the visitor's gallery of the House of Commons.
The two men were held prisoner in China for more than 1,000 days, arrested and charged with various spying offences in retaliation for Canada's decision to arrest Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 at the request of the U.S. government.
This is the first public appearance for the two since they were released in September 2021, after the U.S. and China reached a deal that led to Meng's release in Canada.
Moments before Trudeau and Biden arrived in the House of Commons, the MPs, senators and other dignitaries gathered waiting, noticed the presence in the gallery of the men who became known around the world as the "two Michaels," and jumped to an extended standing ovation.
The two men appeared touched by the unexpected applause, looking repeatedly at each other and their partners beside them, occasionally waving back at someone down below them on the floor of the chamber.
"Wow," Spavor said, his eyes wide. Kovrig, standing beside him, looked close to tears.
A second ovation for them came when Trudeau paid tribute to the pair in his speech while crediting the government's patience not to simply give in to China's demands, and holding firm to its values.
"The rule of law prevailed and the Michaels came home," Trudeau said.
Biden, who met with the two men prior to the speech, noted Canada's leadership building "a coalition of nearly 70 countries endorsing the declaration against arbitrary detention and state to state relations."
"Our citizens are not bargaining chips, they're not diplomatic leverage," said Biden. "They're human beings with lives and families that must be respected. And I'm very glad to see the two Michaels … are safely back to their family."
Biden arrived in Ottawa Thursday night and had dinner with Trudeau and his family at their home but the major part of his first official visit to Canada as president takes place on Friday afternoon.
His lengthy motorcade arrived on Parliament Hill shortly before noon Friday amid a sea of security, media and red carpet pomp, but without the hundreds of Canadian fans who flocked to the Hill in 2009 when president Barack Obama visited.
Obama returned to Ottawa in 2016, near the end of his second term, where he also gave a speech in the House of Commons. That was the last time a U.S. president addressed Parliament.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.
— With files from James McCarten in Washington, and Dylan Robertson, David Fraser, Laura Osman and Mickey Djuric in Ottawa.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press