Just as I leave it…
According to the Maclean’s magazine I read on the plane yesterday, even though he’s coming for only six hours, thousands and thousands of excited Canucks are lining up on Parliament Hill. And they are likely to not even get a brief glimpse of him.
It’s the total opposite of 2004, when we showed up in droves to protest Bush’s visit. This time we’re selling “Canada Loves Obama” t-shirts by the hundred and lining up to show our support. In fact, according to Maclean’s 82% of Canadians approve of Obama, while only 64% of Americans do. Oddly enough, only 38% of Canadians approve of our own prime minister, the weasely looking man in the photo with Obama.
Here’s the New York Times‘ rundown of the visit:
President Obama arrived here Thursday morning for the first foreign trip of his administration, a visit that is expected to focus on the fragile world economy, the sagging auto industry, international trade and energy — in particular the question of how to turn Alberta’s oil sands into a clean source of power.
Mr. Obama was greeted by the governor general of Canada, Michaëlle Jean, as well as the Canadian Ambassador to the United States, Michael Wilson, and a retinue of red-jacketed Canadian Mounties when Air Force One touched down in a light snow at Ottawa International Airport shortly before 10:30 a.m. He is here for a string of official meetings and plans to hold a short press conference with Prime Minister Stephen Harper this afternoon.
The United States is a major importer of Canadian oil, and Mr. Obama is under intense pressure from environmentalists to resist efforts by Mr. Harper to exempt the vast oil sands, which contain up to 173 billion barrels of recoverable oil bound into sand and clay, from regulation. Thursday’s visit is not expected to produce any detailed agreement, although White House officials have said Mr. Obama intends to talk about ways of increasing cooperation with Canada on issues of energy and climate change.
In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation prior to his trip, Mr. Obama stopped short of using the word dirty, as environmentalists do, to describe the process of extracting oil from the sands. But he said extraction work there “creates a big carbon footprint.”
Mr. Obama may also face tensions with Mr. Harper over the issue of trade; Canada is up in arms over a “Buy America” provision inserted by Congress into the $787 billion economic recovery package Mr. Obama just signed into law, and Canadians have not forgotten Mr. Obama’s campaign pledge to reopen negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement — a pledge he has since backed away from. Instead, White House officials say Mr. Obama will stress drafting new environmental and labor protection side-agreements to the pact, and will emphasize the $1.5 billion-a-day trading relationship between the United States and Canada, the largest trading relationship in the world.
Mr. Obama is hugely popular in Canada — one poll during the election found he is more popular here than in the United States—and the newspapers on Thursday were filled with stories about his visit. “They followed the campaign daily like we did,” said Jim Blanchard, a former ambassador to Canada under President Bill Clinton. “They were riveted to their televisions for a year and a half and very enamored with Obama, and they were very unhappy with George W. Bush, and so the fact that he is making his first foreign trip to Ottawa, and this early in his administration, is huge.”
By taking his first trip to Canada, Mr. Obama is following a sometime tradition for United States presidents. Ronald Reagan was one of those who made Canada his first official foreign visit.
Canadians have come to expect the first-visit honor ever since, though former President George W. Bush, a former governor of Texas, took his first trip to Mexico instead. (To avoid an international brouhaha, the Bush White House insisted the Mexico trip, to the ranch of former President Vicente Fox, was an unofficial visit, and that the first official presidential foreign trip was to Canada.)
The Obama White House is eager to avoid any similar slight, on matters stylistic or substantive. Denis McDonough, a deputy national security adviser to Mr. Obama, said before leaving Washington that the president was “very eager to make the trip.” Paul Cellucci, a former ambassador to Canada under Mr. Bush, said Mr. Obama would be wise to strike a friendly tone.
“As he deals with strong allies like Canada, I think he is going to have to listen to them,” Mr. Cellucci said. “You don’t want to go down the road of a trade war, if we’re getting all this energy from Canada and it’s a reliable source of energy. It’s not Venezuela, it’s not the Middle East. Why would we want to jeopardize that?”
Watch the press conference on CNN at 2:45 EST. And remember, this was our victory too: