There is a pattern to U.S. presidential visits familiar to many Canadians. First, there is eager anticipation after an election—will Canada be blessed with the new president's first foreign visit? That tradition was upset by George W. Bush in 2001, who went to Mexico first. (He's making up for it by giving an early post-presidential speech in a welcoming petro-emirate: Calgary.) Then, there is the search for a personal connection to Canada. Bush disappointed here again—but President Obama's brother-in-law is from Burlington, Ontario! Finally, there is the attempt by Canadian institutions to steal some of the presidential limelight. Among the most popular, but perhaps the most provincial, was a CBC Radio contest inviting Canadians to stuff Obama's iPod with Canadian songs. (Congratulations, Joni Mitchell and Malajube; better luck next time, Steppenwolf and Céline Dion.)
This wagon-hitching can be explained by cross-border connections and political realities. Obama's disapproval rating in Canada is less than 4 percent, while Harper clings to power in a minority parliament. "You have a Canadian prime minister who wants Canada to look more like the U.S., and an American president who wants the U.S. to look more like Canada," says pollster Peter Donolo.
Of course, there are a few things Canadian that Americans would like. There's oil and natural gas to be bought (though at around $40 a barrel, the tap from Alberta's tar sands is closing, with further development projects becoming uneconomical). And Obama appears to have been briefed on Canada's mostly sound banking system, which has required no TARP money and little regulatory rescue—he touted Canada's fiscal and financial strength during his pre-visit interview with the CBC. Obama adviser Paul Volcker told a Canadian audience this week that the ideal banking system, focusing on traditional lending and depositing "looks more like the Canadian system than the American system."