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Politics Leaders toast ‘enduring friendship’ at state dinner for Pena Nieto

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto toast Governor General David Johnston at a state dinner in honour of the Mexican President at Rideau Hall the official residence of the Governor General in Ottawa, June 28, 2016.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

They started their day with a jog in thigh-grazing shorts over the bridge from Ontario into Quebec and ended with an elegant state dinner at Rideau Hall, which just so happened to coincide with Governor-General David Johnston's 75th birthday.

In between, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto touted the value of globalization, praised each other's virtues as leaders and rolled up their sleeves for an intimate chat with students.

Mr. Pena Nieto's visit to Ottawa was a chance for the two leaders to show solidarity before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for the Three Amigos summit on Wednesday – and before Mr. Obama's replacement is chosen and the trio's future becomes less certain.

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Mr. Johnston and his wife, Sharon, hosted the two leaders, along with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau in a shimmering gold Theia dress, at Rideau Hall on Tuesday night. The 106 guests included cabinet ministers, indigenous leaders and entrepreneurs, who dined on smoked Rankin Inlet caribou and mint-dusted churros – not to mention red, white and sparkling wine.

In his toast, Mr. Johnston spoke of the strength of the relationship between the two countries – "a reflection of the genuine affection shared by our peoples."

"Tonight's dinner is a celebration of our deep and enduring friendship and a catalyst for an even greater friendship between Canada and Mexico," he said.

Mr. Pena Nieto opened his toast, in English, by thanking the Governor-General "for inviting us to the celebration of your birthday."

At a lengthy joint news conference on Tuesday, the two leaders stood side by side as Mr. Trudeau called Mr. Pena Nieto a "friend of Canada" and Mr. Pena Nieto talked repeatedly of a shared vision between the two countries. "Canada has in you, a progressive, visionary leader who is open to the world," the President said.

Mr. Pena Nieto also planted a ceremonial tree on the grounds of Rideau Hall – in his case, a hemlock, which can grow for up to 300 years.

"We hope that's a symbol of the continuing and enduring friendship that Canada will have with Mexico," Christine MacIntyre, Rideau Hall's executive director of events, household and visitor services, told The Globe this week.

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Gabraela Cisneros, a 25-year-old student from Mexico City who is studying hospitality management at Algonquin College in Ottawa, waited six hours at Rideau Hall to get a glimpse of the President.

"We decided to wait here the whole day," Ms. Cisneros said after she and a friend took a selfie with Mr. Pena Nieto.

"I've never been to a place where I could actually meet him in Mexico."

The two leaders also signed an agreement for more educational partnerships between Mexico and Canada, including to allow 20 students from each country to participate in a 16- to 24-week research project in the other country.

Sitting on stools with their white shirtsleeves rolled up, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Pena Nieto answered questions from university-aged exchange students for almost an hour, before shaking hands and posing for photos.

Mr. Trudeau told the crowd that engaging with young people is a key part of his political career.

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"It continues to be incredibly important, even today as I'm Prime Minister," he said.

Both he and Mr. Pena Nieto spoke in support of globalization in the face of Britain's decision last week to leave the European Union.

"The more we can challenge ourselves to understand different realities, different perspectives, different cultures, the more we discover about ourselves and our place in an increasingly complex world," Mr. Trudeau told the crowd.

"The more we can encourage young people to embrace the world, instead of hide from it."

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