Obama to visit Canada Feb. 19, PMO confirms
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Wednesday, January 28, 2009 7:50PM EST
Barack Obama will visit Canada on Feb. 19 -- his first foreign trip since taking office on Jan. 20, both the prime minister's office and White House confirmed on Wednesday.
Details of the highly-anticipated visit were not immediately available.
"This is a testament, not just to the size of our trading relationship and the closeness of our alliance, but also the strength of our friendship," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons.
"I look forward to an important and productive working visit."
Harper spoke with Obama over the phone last week and discussed plans for the trip.
"Canada is a vitally important ally," White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs told reporters Wednesday. "The president looks forward to the opportunity to speak with Prime Minister Harper and visit our neighbour to the north."
The House of Commons is not sitting the week of Obama's visit, which would seem to rule out a presidential address to Parliament, Harper aide Dimitri Soudas told reporters Wednesday.
Many had speculated Obama might follow in the footsteps of other world leaders who have addressed joint sittings of Parliament.
Those leaders include: Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Jawarhalal Nehru, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Hamid Karzai, as well as U.S. presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
Economy top priority
Canada is the U.S.'s largest trading partner and the largest supplier of foreign energy to the United States. The Harper government is hoping to mesh its environmental policies to those of the new U.S. president.
However, it is the global economic downturn that is expected to be the main topic of discussion between Harper and Obama.
Other topics that are expected to be discussed include: the ailing auto sector, and the mission in Afghanistan.
Obama plans to ramp up U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has previously made comments that seemed to suggest the U.S. would like Canada to extend its Afghan mission beyond 2011.
Obama's decision to visit Canada first revives a tradition for U.S. presidents. Obama's predecessor, president George Bush, made his first foreign visit to Mexico.
There is no word if Michelle Obama will make the trip with the U.S. president. Former U.S. first lady Barbara Bush made the trip with her husband, former president George H.W. Bush, when he visited Canada.
It appears that the trip will only be one day, which would put a damper on the possibility of a state dinner or any public events.
The PMO said details of the visit would be made available later.
With files from The Canadian Press