On his first official international trip since being elected the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama was welcomed by the accolades of an estimated 1,000 onlookers gathered at Canada’s Parliament eagerly awaiting his Ottawa arrival. While he was only in Canada for six hours in total and only met with Prime Minister Steven Harper for roughly 30 minutes before heading to lunch with top advisers, the brief amount of time he did spend in our country was to its benefit.
Trade protectionism, the global economic crisis and the war in Afghanistan were the key topics discussed. As reported by the Canadian Press, the two parties have agreed to establish a “clean energy dialogue” to cut greenhouse gases and fight climate change. While further details will emerge at a later date, it was reported that this would allow both countries to use fossil fuels such as oil and coal while generating less pollution.
“What we’re hearing coming out now bodes very well for Alberta,” said Alberta Energy Minister Mel Knight. “I think what it indicates is that he’s a very thoughtful leader and he’s looking for real solutions for these problems. We believe that we’re able to help him with that.”
Premier Ed Stelmach said he was glad the leaders focused on technology stating a tax on tar sands would have damaged Alberta’s competitiveness. “I’m very pleased that the president and the prime minister are looking at technology as a way of dealing with the issues tied to climate change,” he told CTV.
Not only is Canada America’s largest energy supplier, but are also its biggest trading partner as well and it’s no secret that tensions were heightened at the announcement of the “Buy American” clause requiring any public works project funded by the stimulus project use only iron, steel, and other goods made and manufactured in the United States. Harper said he would seek assurances that this clause did not discriminate against companies in Canada, which send 75 per cent of its merchandise exports to the States. “This is a huge risk to the world right now,” Harper told CNN. “If there is one thing that could turn a recession into a depression, it is protectionist measures across the world,” he said, before mentioning that, while Obama’s signals on the issue were encouraging, Canada has options of recourse under international trade law if necessary.
When asked about the war in Afghanistan, Obama said he’s not pressing to keep Canadian troops beyond their 2011 deadline. “There’s been extraordinary effort there, and we just wanted to make sure that we’re saying thank you,” he said. It is expected that a U.S. combat brigade of approximately 4,000 soldiers will join Canada’s 2,7000 troops in Kandahar and Harper said Canada appreciates the increase U.S. presence. Obama did not declare how long U.S. troops will remain overseas, but did say a 60-day review of the U.S. mission is underway and that more information will be available upon its completion.
Blaine Calkins, Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Wetaskiwin constituency, felt the visit was a success giving Canadians a lot to look forward to in upcoming months. “I was quite pleased the president decided to restore tradition by making his first international trip to Canada. It’s a sign a renewed relations that is very significant and beneficial to all Canadians,” he said. “Whether it’s agricultural or energy, we are such huge exporters and have always shared close ties and good relations so is was important to get reassurance this will be continuing trend. I thought our Prime Minister handled himself brilliantly. It is great to know that there is a common approach and the willingness to work together. We have a willing partner that will benefit our province and our country,” he said.