Visit of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Washington
September 16, 2009
Q1: What is the purpose of Prime Minister Harper’s visit to Washington?
A1: Prime Minister Harper will meet with President Obama on September 16 to review key issues on the bilateral Canada-U.S. agenda, as well as multilateral topics. The two leaders have met on several occasions already, including the recent North American Leaders Summit in Guadalajara, Mexico, but this will be the second strictly bilateral meeting between them. Harper will also meet with congressional leadership. The visit underscores the importance of the bilateral relationship to both countries and is politically well timed for the prime minister, who faces the ongoing possibility of a confidence vote in Parliament led by the Liberal Party opposition to his minority Conservative government, which could generate a snap election.
Q2: What issues are on the bilateral agenda? What are the points of disagreement?
A2: The bilateral agenda is a broad one, but the issues looming large include efforts by the Obama administration to pull the U.S. economy out of recession, a central variable to Canada because of the close economic and trade ties between the two countries. Prime Minister Harper will once again raise Canadian concerns about protectionist measures by the United States, specifically the “buy America” provisions of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus package, which adversely affect Canada. This is the key issue from the Canadian perspective and one that goes to the heart of the bilateral economic relationship. The two leaders will also review respective positions going into the G-20 meeting, with no major differences looming. Likewise, Harper and Obama will discuss their positions on energy and climate change, looking ahead to the UN conference on climate change scheduled for December in Copenhagen. Canada seeks to reconcile its position as a major energy exporter—including the importance of its environmentally sensitive oil sands production—with its traditional policy on climate change. Another topic of importance will be Afghanistan, where Canada has about 2,500 troops and other resources assigned to the NATO effort. The Canadian government has announced its intention to pull its troops out by 2011 and is likely to remain firm on this issue.
Peter DeShazo is director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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