Harper visits New York to raise Canada's profile
Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke to the United Nations chief and went on a media blitz in New York City on Monday, trying to keep Canada in the American spotlight after President Barack Obama's recent visit.
Harper started his day on Fox News, where he touted Canada's strong banking system.
"We don't have the financial sector problem that you have in the United States; we haven't had to bail out any of our financial institutions," he said. "We don't have a mortgage problem. Certainly we have a downturn in our housing sector, but it's not structural -- there will be no government bailout of mortgages in Canada."
He then said he wanted to remind Americans that his country is a good friend, neighbour and key trading partner. The prime minister said he told Obama during their meeting that any bid to impose a "Buy American" mentality in the U.S. would have a negative impact on the economy.
"In my judgment, the biggest single risk we have in the world recession right now is protectionism," Harper said.
"Protectionism is the one thing that could turn a very deep recession into a very deep depression if we are not careful."
Harper also acknowledged it was "great" to see Canada get noticed by its southern neighbour.
"Because we're not a squeaky wheel, we often don't get the grease and we're forgotten," Harper said. "So it was great to have that kind of attention from our great friends in the United States."
Paul Heinbecker, former Canadian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said Harper made the right move by capitalizing on Obama's recent trip to Ottawa.
"I think he's doing exactly the right thing," he told CTV's Power Play. "If you want to have influence in Washington, you have to be effective in the world. And here he went off to New York, to talk to Wall Street and talk to the UN secretary-general. If you're effective in the world, you get a little more respect in Washington, and you get more opportunities to deal with your bilateral problems.
"I'm not sure I would have done it on the Fox News network," he added. "I'm not sure there are a lot of Obama voters watching Fox."
Following his interview with Fox, Harper met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the UN headquarters. He was expected to talk about Afghanistan, Haiti's stability, and the December kidnapping of two Canadian diplomats in Niger.
UN envoy Robert Fowler and his assistant Louis Guay went missing on Dec. 14 and are yet to be found.
In a recording released last week, allegedly from a branch of al Qaeda, the group claims responsibility for the kidnapping.
University of Toronto professor Arnd Jurgensen said the fact that groups affiliated with al Qaeda are kidnapping foreigners presents a "major problem" for Harper and the international community.
He said the Canadian government does not officially negotiate with terrorists and kidnappers.
"How they will gain the release of those hostages without doing so is going to be a very tricky bit of business," Jurgensen told CTV Newsnet.
While security issues were set to dominate the meeting between Harper and Ban, NDP Leader Jack Layton said Monday in question period that the prime minister should have used the visit to address the plight of Canada's Aboriginal peoples.
Earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva called on Canada to improve grave "inequalities" between Aboriginals and other Canadians.
The UN report also said that Aboriginal women suffer high rates of abuse and must confront discrimination when looking for work and housing.
Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl responded that the Tories have been proactive in solving land claims in B.C. and that millions have been pledged for housing on reserves.
Following Harper's visit, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon will head to Washington Tuesday for talks on Afghanistan with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
With files from The Canadian Press