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Obama talks Mexico today, Canada soon. And the new dog nears

January 12, 2009 |  5:14 am

The Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor Canada carries more trade alone than all the commerce between the U.S. and Japan

Aides to President-elect Barack Obama confirmed that he will meet today in Washington with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and will make his first foreign trip as president to Canada on an as-yet-unannounced date.

The moves contCanada's conservative prime minister Stephen Harperinue a tradition of at least acknowledging the importance of two of the United States' contiguous neighbors early in a new administration, although the U.S. looms far larger in the minds and economies of Canada and Mexico than vice versa. Obama was wildly popular especially in Canada, where polls showed he could get elected there. (See fake border sign below.)

The two meetings -- Mexico's before Jan. 20, Canada's after the inauguration) are particularly important for the Obama administration because as a candidate seeking union support for the Democratic nomination, the ex-Illinois senator made much of his concerns over the allegedly adverse impact on American workers of the North American Free Trade Agreement with both countries.

As The Ticket reported back in August 2007 at a labor union forum at Chicago's Soldier Field:

Obama said upon becoming president, "I would immediately call the president of Mexico, the president of Canada, to try to amend NAFTA, because I think that we can get labor agreements in that agreement right now."

Problem is, as some Harvard graduates might know, our next-door neighbor Canada doesn't have a president. For more than 140 years now it has had a parliamentary system.

Presumably, Obama now knows that Stephen Harper is prime minister of Canada, which has Mexico's president Felipe Calderonfallen into its own recession and might well have its own amendment demands if the settled trade treaty can of worms is reopened.

Presumably, Obama has also learned that the U.S.-Canada ties, so little noticed on the southern side of the border, form the largest bilateral economic relationship in the world, more than $1.35 billion in trade flowing between the two countries each day.

In fact, more goods cross over just the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor each year than move between the United States and Japan. More economic numbers here.

Also little-noticed on the southern side, where so many Canadians boost local economies by spending their winters, is Canada's reliability as an energy provider and reliable sturdiness as a military ally. On 9/11, private homes housed thousands of American travelers stranded there when all flights were grounded.

Canada, which is 10% larger than the United States with but 10% of the population, has since the beginning also fought alongside American troops in Afghanistan, which Obama has said is the central front on terror and where he will send more U.S. soldiers.

Every Saturday night millions of Canadians are reminded of the week's combat losses with individual photos of their latest fallen soldiers on national TV during the featured hockey game, one reason perhaps Harper, who is a conservative by Canadian standards, has announced that his country's Afghan role will definitely end in 2011.

That subject may be on Obama's bilateral agenda. But with Harper's minority government in precarious balance, a changed date seems highly unlikely. Not to mention a possible change in government there.

Also, in case you're monitoring the looming first-dog situation, sources say the about-to-be first family has narrowed its canine candidates down to a Labradoodle (see there's the Canadian influence again) or a Portuguese water hound. Mark Silva has a little more on that in the Swamp.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Fake sign from the internet touting Canadians' newfound affection for president-elect Barack Obama

Photo credit: Associated Press (Ambassador Bridge uniting Detroit, left, and Windsor, Ontario); Fake Internet sign proclaiming Canadians' affection for President-elect Barack Obama).