Canada Welcomes Obama, President’s1st foreign visit

OTTAWA – U.S. President Barack Obama met privately with Governor General Michaëlle Jean in a welcoming centre at the Ottawa airport after Air Force One touched down under snowy skies at 10:25 this morning.

Obama, the first black American president, was met by Jean, Canada’s first black Governor General, and her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond.

Other members of the welcoming party included Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, Terry Breese, Chargé d-Affaires of the United States of America to Canada, Robert Peck, Chief of Protocol of Canada, and Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S.

Cannon said after the arrival ceremony that he was very impressed with Obama’s “upbeat” confident manner. “We are looking forward to establishing a good relationship with the United States,” he told the Star.

Mounties in their dress red serge stood at attention as Obama left the plane. Police were everywhere, with snipers on the roof of the Canadian Welcome Centre at Ottawa International Airport.

It is the President’s first foreign visit since taking office, and the snowfall didn’t deter diehard fans of the popular U.S. leader as they lined up at a security fence in keen anticipation of his arrival at Parliament.

Several hundred onlookers were gathered there by mid-morning in hopes of catching a glimpse of Obama when he climbs out of his armoured limousine.

They began gathering in small groups in the pre-dawn gloom. However, they were outnumbered in the early hours by police officers who arrived by the busload as the security lockdown in the nation’s capital moved into high gear.

Security teams with bomb-sniffing dogs monitored Obama’s motorcade route from the airport to Parliament – part of a massive police operation that will cost an estimated $2 million.

After meeting with Jean, the President headed downtown to Parliament Hill. When he arrives at Centre Block, he’ll be welcomed by officials from both the Senate and the House of Commons, including Noël Kinsella, Speaker of the Senate and Commons Speaker Peter Milliken. He’ll sign the distinguished visitors books of the Senate and of the House of Commons.

After meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he’ll move to lunch where high-level Canadian and American officials will have a chance to talk issues in the distinguished setting of the dining room of the Senate speaker.

At lunch, Harper will lead a Canadian contingent that also includes Cannon, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Environment Minister Jim Prentice, Kevin Lynch, Clerk of the Privy Council, Claude Carrière, Harper’s foreign and defence policy advisor, Wilson, Guy Giorno, Harper’s chief of staff and Kory Teneycke, his director of communications.

Lunch will feature Pacific Coast Tuna, Nunavut Arctic char, smoked plains bison, Saugeen yogurt pot de crème and Acadian buckwheat honey and sumac cookies.

On the American side, the president will be joined by Gen. Jim Jones, the President’s National Security Advisor; Larry Summers, the Chairman of the National Economic Council; Carole Browner, the White House Energy and Climate Coordinator, John Brennan, assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism matters; and Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg; as well as White House spokesperson, Robert Gibbs.

The economic calamity born out of the collapse of the U.S. financial system will be the overarching concern of today’s meeting. Both Obama and Harper have brought in hefty government spending and tax measures in an effort to jump-start their struggling economies and both are trying to bail out automakers. Also on the agenda are energy and global warming, trade and the threat of protectionism, the clogged up Canada-U.S. border and security issues, including Afghanistan.

Obama and his officials will meet briefly before leaving Ottawa with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, the Liberal foreign affairs critic. The meeting, a traditional chance for a foreign leader to meet the leader of the official Opposition in Parliament, is scheduled for 15 minutes at the Ottawa airport before the president flies back to Washington, D.C.

The crowd gathered on Parliament Hill to welcome the president was in a boisterous, relaxed mood. They sported Obama T-shirts under winter coats and Obama headbands and waved small Canadian and U.S. flags. Small placards saying “Yes Oui CANada” – a Canadian take on Obama’s slogan – were popular.

One young woman held a poster saying “Obama 4 PM.”

“He’s an inspiring person and I just want to express this moment,” Hussien Wahab, an Ottawa student, said of the president. “It doesn’t matter whether I see him or not.”

At the gates leading into Parliament Hill, RCMP inspected onlookers’ handbags and asked them to open their coats to check for unwanted items. One young man was grabbed and arrested by police when he tried to jump a barricade.

At the airport, busloads of reporters, television crews and photographers were waiting at a special hangar for Obama’s plane to touch down. All had to go through metal detector before allowed into the former Hangar 11. One touchy RCMP officer threatened to strip a Chinese-speaking reporter of her credentials for smiling.

Tucked away in a hangar was the President’s helicopter, which is known as Marine One when he’s on board.

(With files from Bruce Campion-Smith)

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