WASHINGTON – U.S. President Barack Obama’s Feb. 19 visit to Canada will be an all-business affair that’s short on pomp and circumstance because of the economic crisis gripping his country, sources involved in organizing the trip have told The Canadian Press.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper had hoped for a longer stay, but Obama is determined that his first foreign trip as president be a short working visit, the sources said Thursday.
That’s because the president feels he’d have a hard time justifying being away from the U.S. and at the centre of Parliamentary pageantry in the midst of a devastating recession that’s wreaking havoc on the American economy.
Such a visit would send the wrong message to Americans who are struggling to hold onto their jobs and their homes, the sources say, and therefore Obama wants the visit to be a quick, brass-tacks affair so he can return home as soon as possible.
For that reason, the president also has no interest in making a speech or addressing Parliament, the sources said.
Obama is scheduled to address Congress on Feb. 24, a week after his visit to Canada, in a speech that will have the trappings of a State of the Union address.
He’s expected to lay out his foreign policy agenda in that speech, which means saying too much in Canada a week earlier on the same subject might irk Americans.
Nonetheless, one source said, it would be a “disservice” for Canadians to think, given the enormous challenges Obama is facing domestically and internationally, that the president is only coming to Canada because it’s tradition.
That he chose Canada speaks volumes about the Obama administration’s recognition of the importance of the U.S.-Canada relationship, the source said.
However, the visit was also described as “a trip with training wheels” by one source. Many of those planning the visit for the president are in uncharted territory.
While the logistics involved in planning a trip to Canada are less complicated than they would be for other countries, a lot of staff positions in the Obama administration have still not been filled and many of those advancing the visit are doing so for the first time.
Some don’t even have business cards printed up yet, the source added.
Obama heads to Canada just three days after he hopes to sign into law a multibillion-dollar economic stimulus package aimed at pulling the U.S. from the brink of a depression.
Canada has denounced the bill’s controversial “Buy American” provision that requires that all steel and iron used in the bill’s many infrastructure projects be made in the United States.
Canada, the European Union and other American trading partners have pointed out the provision could violate international trade agreements.
Trade Minister Stockwell Day said Thursday he was cautiously optimistic after the U.S. Senate altered “Buy American” to specify that it must not violate trade agreements, but added it remains to be seen whether the measure will live or die in the bill.
The House and the Senate must soon get to work reconciling their two separate versions of the bill, and there’s a chance “Buy American” could be scrapped altogether if neither side can agree upon it.
Canadian concerns about U.S. protectionism are sure to be a top item of discussion during Obama’s discussions with Harper in Ottawa.
A joint climate change and energy policy and Afghanistan are also likely to be on the agenda.