Harper clearly impressed with Obama's visit
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says that he was charmed by President Barack Obama on a personal level and feels he has a partner on a political level.
Speaking to CTV's Tom Clark a day after Obama's visit to Ottawa, Harper said that the new president seems much more willing to work with Canada than the Bush administration, particularly on the environment.
"It wasn't a secret that the Bush administration not only did not sign Kyoto but . . . they were opposed to obligatory targets," Harper said. "The truth is successive governments have had difficulty implementing an effective (environmental) regime in Canada because how do you have targets that impact upon the economy when you are in an integrated continental economy."
Harper said that Obama's environmental plans are "close" to his government.
But Harper was careful not to overtly criticize the unpopular former president.
"Frankly, I don't want to criticize president (George W.) Bush because I actually found president Bush to be quite a friend to Canada," Harper said. "We dealt quite productively on some files like softwood lumber.
"But there's no doubt that one of President Obama's objectives as an American leader . . . is to project American leadership in a more collaborative way.
Harper said that Obama and he worked out a "really solid plan for the future" in Obama's brief visit Thursday.
He also said that after the difficulties between the previous Liberal government and Bush, Obama represents a fresh start for Canadian-American relations.
Harper also said he intends to press Obama in the future about a new approach to border security.
The prime minister says there is too much red tape and that bureaucratic processes don't identify real risks to security.
He says that needs to be more nuanced approach to identify threats while not slowing down trade and tourism.
On the personal side
Harper said he "really quite liked" Obama and spoke highly of the 44th U.S. president.
"He's what he appears to be, he's extremely charming, extremely personable," the prime minister said. "He's just a very engaging guy, a very good listener and a good guy to listen to."
Harper said that in their 30-minute meeting Thursday they spoke of the stresses of being in office during a time of economic crisis.
"I was struck by how relaxed he is . . . notwithstanding the enormous challenges that are on his desk," he said. "I won't kid you, I often feel a lot of stress, particularly around the challenges we have in the economy now . . . and my challenges are very small compared to the domestic and international challenges he's facing.
"He seems remarkably at ease, remarkably relaxed, that will be a good asset if he can maintain it over four years."
Harper said he didn't want to get into specifics of their private conversation but said the pair had a lot in common including: their youth considering their positions, having young children and that they are both from middle-class backgrounds to which the prime minister called "unusual" for leaders.
Harper also said it was nice to talk to someone who could relate to the challenges of leadership.
"You can have a conversation about the challenges and the stresses, both on the policy and the political level, that you can't have with very many people out there," he said.
Obama's approval ratings in Canada dwarf that of any domestic politician (maybe with the exception of Danny Williams in Newfoundland) and Harper is hardly the only politician who wants to cozy up to the popular president.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff also spoke very generously about Obama, after the pair met for 30 minutes Thursday.
Ignatieff said Obama was a politician with "style, but also enormous substance," who is a thoughtful, focused and capable leader.
"This is a really substantial politician and I think Canadians can feel better knowing he's at the helm," he said.