Obama roadshow ends with vow to fight recession together

OTTAWA - Barack Obama lapped up the love and gave some back during a whirlwind visit to the nation's capital that saw him promise closer collaboration on the troubled economy and the environment.

OTTAWA - Barack Obama lapped up the love and gave some back during a whirlwind visit to the nation's capital that saw him promise closer collaboration on the troubled economy and the environment.

Thursday's seven-hour trip was supposed to be an all-work-and-no-play affair, but the U.S. president managed to sprinkle a bit of stardust along the way.

Obama and his 50-car motorcade took over downtown, dazzling swooning well-wishers and making a mess for commuters.

He capped the visit with an unscheduled walkabout in the historic Byward Market, buying gifts for his daughters and a Beavertail dessert for himself.

It was a celebrity sideshow to the main event - a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper that yielded agreement to work together to rescue the economy and fight climate change.

Obama and Harper emerged from a series of meetings to announce a "clean-energy dialogue" aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and combatting climate change.

They also pledged to counter the global economic recession with "mutually beneficial stimulus measures" and by strengthening the international financial system.

And they said they would like to see stimulus money directed at the Canada-U.S. border to help speed up the flow of trade.

Obama made a point of taking a potentially awkward item off the table, saying he did not ask Harper to extend the Canadian mission to Afghanistan beyond the scheduled pullout date of 2011.

"All I did was to compliment Canada not only on the troops that are there, the 108 that have fallen as a consequence of engagement in Afghanistan, but also the fact that Canada's largest foreign aid recipient is Afghanistan," he told a news conference.

Harper seized the opportunity to send Americans the message that Canada remains a staunch defender of free trade and border security.

Obama took a more populist approach, heaping praise on America's northern neighbour.

"I love this country," he said.

"I came to Canada on my first trip as president to underscore the closeness and the importance of the relationship between our two nations and to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to work with friends and partners to meet the common challenges of our time."

He also reiterated his intention to encourage bilateral trade rather than protectionism. The federal government and Canadian industry have been looking warily at an $800-billion American stimulus package that includes "Buy American" measures.

"I recognize the concerns of Canada given how significant trade with the United States is to the Canadian economy," Obama said. "I provided Prime Minister Harper an assurance that I want to grow trade and not contract it."

Harper, conscious of the American audience tuned in to the visit, repeated his warning about the dire consequences of trade protectionism, and plead his case on Canadian security to those pushing for a thickening of the border.

"I just want to make this clear and I want to make this clear to our American friends - not only have we since 9/11 made significant investments in security and security along our border, the view of this government is unequivocal: threats to the United States are threats to Canada."

Obama touched down in Ottawa aboard Air Force One amid light snow, sparse crowds and heavy security. He strided down the gangway stairs and was greeted on the tarmac by a beaming Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean, a series of dignitaries and a row of Mounties in stetsons and red serge.

The first black U.S. president enjoyed a relaxed chat with the first black Governor General, with Jean clapping a hand on Obama's back and throwing back her head in laughter as they strolled into the airport reception centre.

Obama then headed to Parliament Hill in his limousine, known as "The Beast" - a modified Cadillac with armour, bulletproof glass, a self-contained passenger compartment and sophisticated communications technology.

Hundreds of people lined the slushy streets along the motorcade route, waving, cheering, and posing for pictures as Obama passed. A presidential wave from behind thick window glass was enough to send one group of teenage girls into a frenzy of screams and hugs.

The president was greeted on Parliament Hill by an adoring crowd of about 2,500 supporters chanting "Yes We Can" and craning for a look at the political phenom.

Obama obliged, waving with Harper to the delighted crowd behind a sheet of protective glass.

The only bit of trouble came when an over-exuberant young man was arrested after apparently trying to hop a barricade. He was later released.

Clary Fraser drove from Toronto to take in the moment. He said he was in Birmingham, Ala., during a tragic race bombing in 1963.

Change, he said, has come.

"No one, no one in the world would have dreamed, could suggest that there would one day be a black president of the United States," Fraser said.

"Obama don't look at colour. There is no black or white, no red or yellow. We're all one."

Ottawa's brief Obamamania reach its pinnacle after the president left Parliament Hill. Instead of heading straight to the airport, the president's motorcade made an unpublicized pit stop in the Byward Market.

Obama strolled through an indoor mall that features an international food court and Canadian souvenirs. He grabbed cookies in the shape of maple leafs and snowglobes for his daughters, shaking a few frantically waving hands.

Bystanders were dazzled.

"He said, 'We love Canadians.' I said: 'We love you too, man,"' said Walid Zurub, owner of a hair salon in the market. "It was something else to see the market like that, all the Secret Service. It was chaos."

A Secret Service agent rolled up to Hooker's Beavertails, a classic Ottawa treat of fried dough.

Server Jessica Millien, 17, brought the dessert out Obama, who posed for a picture and advised that he would be eating it later.

The glad-handing was a big change from Parliament Hill where crews erected additional barricades in the early morning hours as security teams with police dogs, all-terrain vehicles and tactical units fanned out over the area. High above, sharp-shooters watched from the roof of the Parliament buildings.

 
 
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