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All hell won’t break loose

One of the more saucy stories from the annals of foreign leaders visiting Canada came back in the Diefenbaker era when the notorious Congo leader Patrice Lamumba made an Ottawa stopover.

One of the more saucy stories from the annals of foreign leaders visiting Canada came back in the Diefenbaker era when the notorious Congo leader Patrice Lamumba made an Ottawa stopover.

Back then Canada had a highly religious and somewhat naive external affairs minister in Howard Green. Lamumba had a meeting with him and asked at the close if Green could arrange for a girl to be sent over to his Chateau Laurier suite.

Not aware of Lamumba’s reputation as a fornicator of some renown, Green thought he meant a stenographer. Yes, of course, he could do that, he replied. The next day an unsuspecting typist was sent over to the Chateau. She entered the Congo leader’s room — and all hell broke loose.

The late Dean Rusk, secretary of state in the Kennedy administration, told me that story. He was trying to illustrate Canadians were sometimes innocents on the world stage. As an architect of the Vietnam war, he might have known all about the pitfalls of being naive. So might the most recent Bush administration.

Vietnam and Iraq were two wars that made relations between presidents and prime ministers difficult at best. U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit here Thursday provides an opportunity to set aside differences and re-establish harmony between the two countries.

Canadians at this point see eye to eye with the new American president more so than with their own leader, Stephen Harper. The Conservative PM will be sure to bear this in mind. He has just had to bring in a liberal budget. Now he’s going to have to all but fall at the feet of a liberal president. To do otherwise would hardly benefit his public standing.

That means you won’t see any big disagreements between the U.S. president and the prime minister Thursday in what will be a short, businesslike meeting. On the economy, on energy, on the environment and on Afghanistan, there is plenty of room for discord. In terms of the chemistry between the two men, all is not the most promising either. One is dour and conservative. The other is eloquent and liberal.

But the times and circumstance require they find common ground. And so they will — at least for the time being. More awkward moments for the prime minister will be certain to come. One will be when liberal soulmate Michael Ignatieff, who has close contacts in the Obama camp, travels to Washington later this year for a lengthy and most friendly get-together.

 
 
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