State dinner for visiting leader like belated reunion

US President Obama (right) and his wife Michelle (second from left) with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and his wife Sophie before the White House state dinner, the first for a Canadian prime minister in nearly two decades.
US President Obama (right) and his wife Michelle (second from left) with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and his wife Sophie before the White House state dinner, the first for a Canadian prime minister in nearly two decades.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

WASHINGTON • When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mounted the carpeted steps of the White House's North Portico on Thursday night for one of this city's most glamorous rituals - a state dinner - he followed in his father's footsteps, but only so far.

Mr Trudeau's father Pierre, who also served as prime minister, was twice honoured at similar White House dinners in 1969 and 1977.

On both occasions, the visit roiled American sensibilities.

First, when the senior Mr Trudeau asked to take a swim in the White House pool and later, when his wife Margaret wore an above-the- knee dress that scandalised the United States news media.

This week's visit by the younger Mr Trudeau, 44, and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, 40, was bound to be quite a bit more conventional, if no less glamorous, with diplomats, elected officials, business executives and celebrities descending on the White House.

Indeed, the state dinner, the first for a Canadian prime minister in nearly two decades and most likely one of President Barack Obama's last, had the air of a belated family reunion between two countries sharing the world's longest international border, not to mention professional sports, celebrities, cuisine and culture.

Many of the luminaries in attendance had ties to Canada and offered praise for its young leader.

The 200 or so guests invited to join the first couples in the East Room came from as far away as Hollywood and as close as Capitol Hill.

Celebrities Ryan Reynolds, Sandra Oh, Michael J. Fox and Mike Myers led a contingent of Canadian-born actors and entertainers.

The leaders of two professional sports leagues that operate in Canada, Mr Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League and Mr Adam Silver of the National Basketball Association, were also in attendance.

First Lady Michelle Obama's dress came from designer Jason Wu, who was born in Taiwan and raised in British Columbia.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'State dinner for visiting leader like belated reunion'. Print Edition | Subscribe