November 6, 2008 / 8:29 PM / in 9 years

Harper to Obama: Canada's your best friend

<p>Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to journalists after meeting with members of the C.D. Howe Institute Monetary Policy Council Toronto, November 6, 2008. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday he wants to tell President-elect Barack Obama that Canada stands ready as the best friend and partner of the United States.

He termed Obama’s election an inspiration because he is the first black to win the presidency, adding the victory was a remarkable feat that students of politics would want to study.

“I think everyone not only in the United States but around the world is quite excited by the possibility of change in the United States, our neighbor,” Harper told a news conference in Toronto.

He said he hoped to speak to Obama in the coming hours, or at most the next day or two, and to meet him at the appropriate time.

“Canada is there to be not just an ally and a partner of the United States but its most reliable ally and its best friend and partner in the world. That’s what we’re there to do. We will be there, and I look forward to that conversation and meeting the senator in person,” Harper said.

It was the prime minister’s first public event since the U.S. election, and his remarks were much fuller than a brief written statement his staff put out on election night.

“This is a tremendous, historic occasion for the United States, in all kinds of ways. Obviously the election of the first African-American president is a tremendous and truly inspiring moment,” he said.

“And I think all of us who are maybe a little bit older ... understand why that truly is, when you see the changes that have occurred in their society and our society over the past couple of generations.”

Harper, who just won re-election in a 37-day campaign, is a keen strategist and student of politics, and admired Obama’s two-stage victory.

“It was a remarkable campaign, not just President-elect Obama’s win in the general election but particularly his win in the primary race, where he in a sense came from out of nowhere to beat established political machines,” he said.

“I think (it) is a political story that is going to probably be studied by my people and many people for a long time to come.”

Harper is a Conservative who had a natural affinity with Republican President George W. Bush, but he said he intended to tell the Democrat Obama that the Canada-U.S. relationship is never about who is prime minister or president but about close bilateral ties.

In March, Harper had found himself on the hot seat in Parliament after a leak of information about Obama’s position on the North American Free Trade Agreement became a factor in the Democratic primary campaign.

The internal Canadian memo had quoted an Obama adviser as saying not to pay attention to his protectionist rhetoric about NAFTA. Nobody disputed the accuracy of the memo but Harper told Parliament at the time its leak was unfair to Obama.

On Thursday, Harper said the top three issues he would raise with Obama were the economic crisis; the environment and energy security; and international security and foreign policy.

He welcomed Obama’s intention to shift focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, where Canada has 2,500 troops.

“We obviously view that as positive, and obviously consistent with Canadian policy,” he said.

A Canadian official also said Ottawa would like to look at a joint pact with the United States on fighting climate change, one that would seek to provide a level playing field on both sides of the border.

Additional reporting by John McCrank in Toronto; editing by Rob Wilson

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