This New York Times article today on the visit seemed to me one of the relatively more nuanced pieces of reporting that put its finger on an awkwardness between Obama and Harper that was manifested during the news conference in the discussion on trade and security:
“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 point being that Mr. Harper in his effort to be a strong advocate on Canada's behalf on these issues, which he should, is rarely a skilled statesman. Read that excerpt in conjunction with the next. The Times went on to write this:
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.
The exchange was an awkward moment in a visit that was intended by both leaders to emphasize their countries’ friendship and longstanding bonds. After slipping up by nearly referring to Ottawa as Iowa, Mr. Obama went on to say that he had a Canadian brother-in-law and that two of his top aides were Canadian.
Mr. Harper, for his part, responded to a question about border security by saying that “threats to the United States are threats to Canada.” It was a powerful sound bite that appeared to be the final word of the news conference, until Mr. Obama jumped in to get one last word of his own, saying, “We have no doubt about Canada’s commitment to security in the United States.”
If Mr. Obama is not entirely simpatico with Mr. Harper, he may have more in common with Canada’s opposition leader, Michael Ignatieff of the Liberal Party. Mr. Ignatieff is an author (like Mr. Obama) and a former director of a human rights center at Harvard, where he worked alongside Samantha Power, who advised Mr. Obama on foreign policy during his campaign. The two had a brief meeting at the airport on Mr. Obama’s way out of town.I picked up a distinct undertone in this piece, an unstated reflection of the political dynamic in Canada at the moment. Harper as minority government leader, clearly. And the effort to minimize Ignatieff's role in the day didn't work out so well.
One more point on the whole Harper's morphing environmental position hypocrisy that may have left an important impression on the visitors as well. Jeffrey Simpson chimed in today on dressing down Harper for his foolish attempt to blame Bush for Harper's own global warming inaction:
"To suggest that Canada's failure was because the Americans were an unwilling partner is historical revisionism of a brazen kind."To watch Harper during the news conference with Obama repeating that stance was almost surreal. But it was fun to watch Obama as Harper was saying this, it must have been quite the political lesson, standing face to face with such political opportunism. Obama fully demonstrated his command of Canadian issues/files in the Mansbridge interview and during the press conference, there's no way he didn't know Harper was blowing hot air. I marvel at how Harper summons the ability to say such things at such moments. For the life of me I can't understand how he can do it or that he would do it. It's like the thinnest of escape hatches from his recalcitrance was being grabbed simply because it's there, no matter what it looked like. He shouldn't be doing it and especially not in that forum. For all his talk about the next time he's on the phone with Obama it'll be much different now that they've met in person, well, factor this little bit in as well. He shoots, he doesn't score, once again.
The Governor General's role yesterday was a big highlight of the lighter variety...a reader sent me an email: "What struck me as the most impressive moment in the Obama visit was the animated social interaction between Obama and Ms Jean." Ken Chapman wrote about this too: "The new secret weapon Canada has on the diplomatic front is Governor General Michaelle Jean. Obama seems to be most comfortable and communicative with her and why not given the symbolic between them."
Was Harper only on The National last night with Mansbridge in the parliamentary library because Obama had been on with Mansbridge two nights prior? A rare CBC appearance...that's what I'm thinking.
Finally, on a lighter note, Rachel Maddow had a segment last night on the visit too, enjoy: