OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said Friday he asked President Joe Biden to remove the U.S. government's requirement that Canadians be vaccinated for COVID-19 before crossing the border.
He told reporters after their meeting that American citizens are no longer required to have their shots and Canada allows unvaccinated Americans to visit.
"There are millions of good, decent, honourable people who, through a personal medical decision, are discriminated against at the border," Poilievre said.
"I encouraged the president to lift those restrictions to allow them freedom of mobility."
Poilievre won the leadership of his party a little more than six months ago by mounting a vocal opposition to COVID-19 health restrictions, including mask and vaccine mandates, but he has since focused his message on cost-of-living issues.
He met with Biden on Parliament Hill Friday during the president's 27-hour visit to the Canadian capital, and later shared a photo of the two online.
Michael Ignatieff was the last Opposition leader to have face time with a U.S president. The former Liberal leader met with former President Barack Obama in 2009. It happened at the airport.
Poilievre said Friday he found Biden wants to be a "friendly" and "decent" neighbour to Canada, and on a personal level, he said he told the president they share Irish heritage.
He said they discussed the need for Canada to bolster its defence systems and "bring fairness" to workers by seeing the U.S. exempt Canada from its Buy American policies.
The Tory leader also said he expressed a need for Biden to axe tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber, arguing that the long-standing dispute saw a brief reprieve under Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.
"I don't believe that Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau has pushed and fought on behalf of Canadians," he said.
Before the meeting, Poilievre had shared some unscripted moments with the leader of the free world.
As he stood in a receiving line of Canadianpoliticians from all parties who were greeting Biden upon his arrival at Parliament Hill, Poilievre introduced himself as the "Leader of His Majesty's Loyal Opposition."
That prompted Biden to question, still shaking Poilievre's hand: "Loyal opposition?"
Poilievre assured him that yes, "we believe that opposition is an act of loyalty in our system."
Biden chuckled, patting Poilievre on the arm.
"We do, too, unfortunately," he said, chuckling.
Later, while addressing the House of Commons, Biden noted that both he and Trudeau appointed cabinets that were half women, making them the first in their respective countries to do so.
Many in the chamber broke out in applause.
Biden noticed that Poilievre and the Opposition Conservatives were not quick to rise, and quipped: "Even you don't agree, guys, I'd stand up," which Poilievre and others then did.
Asked afterwards about that interaction, Poilievre said only: "We support gender equality for all Canadians."
Poilievre was on the guestlist for a dinner with Biden Friday evening, along with other government ministers, officials and celebrities.
The invitation process came with a dash of partisanship.
Earlier in the day, staff in Poilievre's office were left scratching their heads when they said it had not received an invite from Trudeau's office to attend, and asserted that any suggestion he had refused the invitation was false.
The Prime Minister's Office confirmed it had sent Poilievre notice of the dinner — but the invitation went to a personal email account that notifies senders it is not monitored.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press