Stephen Harper's government has made earning coin in Washington a key part of its foreign policy. But today, Ottawa will make its own transition from George W. Bush's security agenda to Barack Obama's economic agenda.
The changing times mean Canada must focus on finding shelter from a wave of protectionism expected in Congress, persuading Washington's new power brokers that U.S. and Canadian jobs are linked, and possibly, selling Canada as a path to reducing U.S. dependency on Middle East and Venezuelan oil, analysts say.
With opinion polls predicting that Mr. Obama, the Illinois Democratic Senator, would easily triumph over Arizona Republican John McCain, capitals around the world have been preparing for an Obama administration.
For Canada and Mr. Harper's government, it opens an opportunity similar to pressing a reset button on Canada-U.S. relations. But it also means vying for the attention of a new president facing a daunting mix of international and economic problems.
"There isn't much of a track record of interest on the part of Obama," said Allan Gotlieb, Canada's ambassador to Washington from 1981 to 1989. "The challenge will be to engage him in the Canada-U.S. file."
Mr. Obama is from a northern state, Illinois, that trades heavily with Canada, but unlike Mr. McCain, did not visit Canada to burnish his foreign-policy credentials, he noted.
Some of the issues that earned credit with Mr. Bush's administration, such as increased military spending, and Canada's role as a staunch NATO ally in Afghanistan, will still be appreciated in Washington, as Mr. Obama has pledged to make that mission a priority.
But a bigger Canadian concern will be a Democratic president backed by a heavily Democratic Congress riding a wave of protectionism fuelled by economic recession. The question is how Canada manages it, many analysts say.
"Will there be protectionist tendencies coming out of the 111th Congress? Yes. Will Barack Obama be more likely to stand in the way of those than George Bush would? Probably not. But that does not mean Canada should panic about its relationship with us," said Maryscott (Scotty) Greenwood, who was chief of staff at the U.S. embassy in Ottawa during the Bill Clinton administration and is now executive director of the Canadian American Business Council.
Despite Mr. Obama's comment during the Democratic primaries that he would force renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement, he is surrounded by economic advisers friendly to North American trade, and many analysts believe he is not likely to threaten the core of the deal.
Congress is always more protectionist than the administration, because it reacts more to the pressures of local industries, so Canada must find broad strategies to argue that U.S. jobs depend on Canadian trade, said Colin Robertson, a former senior Canadian diplomat now heading a Carleton University project to create a blueprint for relations with the new administration.
Mr. Robertson has called for a "Team Canada Inc." approach - enlisting business and unions to argue that Canadian and U.S. auto plants, for example, work together to make cars, so that strengthening the North American supply chain, rather than weakening it, will keep Americans employed.
Mr. Gotlieb noted that a good relationship between leaders, can bring U.S. attention to Canadian concerns, and said Canadian officials should press for an early Harper-Obama meeting.
Few see obvious grounds for a close relationship; the two seem different in background, temperament and political leaning. They have spoken once, when Mr. Harper called to congratulate Mr. Obama on winning the Democratic nomination.
And a Canadian leak that weakened the credibility of Mr. Obama's position on NAFTA in rust-belt states created a political headache, although Ms. Greenwood bets it is forgotten. She said that Canada already has a card it can play to make its interests relevant to Mr. Obama, by selling itself as the solution to a U.S. "obsession" with energy security.
"Whether it's 'drill, baby, drill,' or 'reduce our dependence on foreign oil,' it's in every single political speech of everybody who's on the ballot right now," she said. A few weeks ago, Mr. Obama switched from criticizing dependence on "foreign" oil to decrying dependence on Middle East oil.
Ms. Greenwood said that wasn't insignificant, and Mr. Harper should seek to open common initiatives that tie efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to energy security, so Canada's oil sands are viewed as a potential political help to Mr. Obama.