Obama declares love for Canada, banishes Bush era

Thu Feb 19, 2009 6:03pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Declaring "I love this country" and waving to ecstatic Canadian crowds, U.S. President Barack Obama helped reignite on Thursday a close binational friendship that had waned during the administration of his predecessor George W. Bush.

Obama revived a tradition whereby new U.S. presidents make their first foreign trip to Canada, which is one of America's most important trading partners.

Bush made his initial visit to Mexico after winning the 2000 election and subsequently grew ever more unpopular among Canadians, in particular over his decision to invade Iraq.

The new U.S. leader, on the other hand, was treated like a rock star by the thousands of people who gathered in freezing temperatures to welcome him on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Unlike Bush, who rarely expressed much public enthusiasm for Canada, a close U.S. ally and its largest suppler of energy, Obama ladled on praise for its northern neighbor.

"I love this country. We could not have a better friend and ally," Obama told a closing news conference with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"I'm looking forward to this being the start of a continued extraordinary relationship between our two countries."

Obama has a Canadian brother-in-law and two of his key staff members are from Canada.   Continued...

<p>President Barack Obama (L) and Prime Minister Stephen Harper shake hands before a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, February 19, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>