The Obamas are having a special dinner guest tonight: the president and first lady have invited Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau to dine at the White House as part of the first formal meeting between the two leaders. We know Trudeau will be a polite dinner guest, but he does have the opportunity to influence the president's thinking on a few key issues:
1. Opening borders to more refugees
President Obama has promised to take in 10,000 refugees from Syria, where more than four million people have been displaced by civil war since 2011. That's more than a third of the country's pre-war population.
To date, America has only brought in 2,500 Syrian refugees since the conflict began. In contrast, the Liberal government has already hit its much-larger goal of bringing 25,000 refugees to Canada by the end of this year through its resettlement program and private sponsorships. Hopefully Trudeau can inspire the president to help out more in what's been called the worst humanitarian crisis in our time.
As of November 2015, 31 state governors opposed bringing in Syrian refugees, so Obama's resettlement plans face daunting challenges. But the situation is comparable to the political landscape in Canada: an Angus-Reid poll released in November 2015 found that the majority of Canadians opposed taking in displaced Syrians. But the Trudeau government is moving ahead with its plans anyway, so the prime minister could offer the president advice on how to tackle this divisive issue, in an admittedly more volatile climate with Donald Trump campaigning for the Republican nomination.
2. Achieving gender parity in politics
President Obama has been a trailblazer in terms of issues like homosexual rights and equality, and healthcare reform. But gender equality is eroding in America: the nation fell from the top 20 to #28 in the 2015 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap.
Kim Parker, director of social trends research at the non-partisan Pew Research Center in Washington D.C., told USA Today: "We have not been at the leading edge internationally of female representation in top leadership positions nor in gender pay equity."
To lay the groundwork for improving America's ranking, Obama should consult Trudeau. Admittedly, Canada had an even lower ranking (30th on the same list). But Trudeau got off to a good start as prime minister when he made international headlines last fall when he introduced his gender-balanced cabinet.
Trudeau has also committed to achieving parity in parliament. And on Mar. 8, he announced plans to put women (other than Queen Elizabeth II) on the country's currency. Maybe it's time for someone like first female Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to replace Andrew Jackson on the greenback.
3. Fully legalize medical marijuana, and maybe recreational too
You knew we would go there. America is sorely lagging behind the times when it comes to medical marijuana. Although 23 states have recognized some form of medical marijuana, the federal government still considers cannabis a drug that has no medical use and is as dangerous as heroin.
Recently, there has been a groundswell of support for rescheduling marijuana in America's Controlled Substances Act so that its medical properties can be researched throughly.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer, the Utah legislature, the Cato Institute, the Brookings Institution, presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, as well as Hillary Clinton and many others have supported this cause. But President Obama refuses to act on the issue.
Meanwhile, Canada legalized medical marijuana in 2001. And Justin Trudeau is currently working on legalizing recreational use nationwide. Full-scale legalization is likely too much to ask of Obama at this point, but maybe Trudeau can make at least a few convincing arguments about medical marijuana while he has the president's ear.