Friday, February 20, 2009

Obama Makes Overtures to Canada’s Leader

(Video: PMO • Story: New York Times)

President Obama charted a delicate course with Canada on Thursday, using the first foreign trip of his presidency to ease tensions over trade policy, climate change and the war in Afghanistan – all the while basking in his celebrity status in a nation where his approval ratings are so high that a local bakery named a pastry after him.

The quick day trip marked a striking shift in United States-Canada relations from those under President Bush. If Canadians were no fans of Mr. Bush, their conservative leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, found in him a kindred philosophical spirit.

Mr. Obama, on the other hand, is so popular here that he used a news conference on Thursday to thank Canadian volunteers who crossed the border to help his campaign. At the same time, he sought to soothe a skeptical Mr. Harper on policy matters like whether to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement – Mr. Obama suggested doing so as a candidate but has since recalibrated his stance – as well as a “Buy America” provision in the $787 billion economic recovery package he just signed into law.

“I provided Prime Minister Harper an assurance that I want to grow trade, not contract it,” Mr. Obama said during the brief, four-question news conference with Mr. Harper in the grand Gothic-style center block of the Canadian Parliament. “And I don’t think that there was anything in the recovery package that was adverse to that goal.”

The prime minister responded by giving the president a bit of a lecture, remarking that Canada’s stimulus package “actually removed duties on some imported goods.” “If we pursue stimulus packages the goal of which is only to benefit ourselves, or to benefit ourselves at the expense of others, we will deepen the world recession, not solve it,” Mr. Harper said.

Related: White House photo-essay entitled “Working With Canada” here