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OTTAWA, March 1 (Reuters) - An influential Canadian cabinet minister took an unexpected swipe at the United States on Friday, saying it was up to its ears in debt because it had followed big-spending policies similar to those advocated by a left-leaning Canadian party.
The comments by House Leader Peter Van Loan were a surprise, given that the United States is Canada's closest ally and Ottawa is currently pressing Washington to approve a major pipeline from the oil sands of Alberta to Texas.
Van Loan, a Conservative, made his comments while criticizing the left-leaning opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), which wants more government spending on social programs such as public housing.
"If they want to see an example of what happens when you adopt NDP spending plans ... they can just look south of the border and see what happens when you're in debt up to your ears," Van Loan told the House of Commons.
Canada's governing Conservatives are a right-of-center pro-business party more similar to the U.S. Republicans than President Barack Obama's Democrats. Obama has a somewhat distant relationship with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
A few minutes later Van Loan renewed his attack on the NDP's spending plans, saying they would pile up huge government debts.
"If they want to know where you go when you hit that black hole of debt, just look south of the border and see real crisis," he said.
Harper's chief spokesman, Andrew MacDougall, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Canada sends 75 percent of its overall exports to the United States, including 100 percent of its natural gas exports and 98 percent of its oil exports.
The Conservatives want Washington to approve TransCanada Corp's proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas. Obama is under heavy pressure from environmentalists to veto the project.