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Stephen Harper positioned Canada as a new "emerging energy superpower" in his first speech abroad yesterday as Prime Minister.

Mr. Harper boldly sold Canada as a secure, stable and reliable source of energy to an audience of about 300 business people -- members of the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce.

He bragged about Canada's vast and seemingly limitless energy resources, calling the country "a new energy superpower" and spoke about how his government was about to build Canada into a "global energy powerhouse."

"We believe in the free exchange of energy products based on competitive market principles, not self-serving monopolistic political strategies," he said.

His statement was a veiled criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the host of the G8 summit, which begins today in St. Petersburg. Mr. Putin has identified global energy security as one of the three priorities of the summit. As well, Russia and Canada are the only two net energy exporters among the G8.

The theme of energy security and Canada as an energy superpower has been a recurring one of late, as Mr. Harper has stepped out more on the international stage. In Washington last week, he stressed similar themes to U.S. President George W. Bush and his advisers.

Canadian embassy staff in Washington are also consciously emphasizing to business leaders and politicians how much energy Canada supplies to the United States, again reinforcing the message that the country is a safe, reliable and market-based source of energy.

A senior Harper strategist said the Prime Minister will use the summit as an opportunity to talk about Canada's secure energy resources and the importance of allowing market forces, not government monopolies, to prevail.

In background literature distributed to reporters about the G8 summit, the Canadian briefing book says "Canada's contribution to the St. Petersburg Summit will be informed by our long experience in energy resource development, as well as by the lessons learned from exporting to the United States, the world's largest economy."

Last night, the Prime Minister told his audience that Canada is the fifth-largest energy producer in the world; the country ranks third and seventh in global gas and oil production and is the world's largest supplier of uranium.

"But that's just the beginning," he said. "Our government is making new investments in renewable energy sources such as biofuels. And an ocean of oil-soaked sand lies under the muskeg of Northern Alberta -- my home province."

He was referring to oil-sands production, currently above one million barrels a day. But with vast, ongoing expansions and $100-billion worth of projects slated for construction, it is predicted that output could reach three to four million barrels daily within 10 to 15 years.

That promise of exponential production growth prompted U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to comment yesterday during a visit to Calgary that the oil sands would have a "profound effect" on energy use in the United States.

"I believe it is incumbent on us . . . to do everything we can do to understand what the barriers are; to understand what the opportunities are; to understand how we could be helpful," said Mr. Bodman, who visited the oil sands earlier in the week.

Mr. Harper's speech ended a full day, during which he met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, drank orange juice with the Queen and met for 45 minutes with Conservative former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Mrs. Thatcher visited Mr. Harper at his hotel and the two discussed international and domestic issues, according to a senior Harper aide. It was the first time the two had met.

And early yesterday morning Mr. Harper visited Mr. Blair at 10 Downing St. Over eggs, tomatoes and blood pudding, the two discussed the escalation of violence in the Middle East, the Kyoto accord and the efforts of Canadian and British soldiers in Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, Mr. Harper had been unequivocal in his support for Israel, calling its response to the abduction of several of its soldiers "measured."

Mr. Blair was not as blunt. Rather, he called yesterday for an international approach, saying the only path to success is one in which "the international community empowers the two sides, the moderates on both sides, to come to a solution."

Mr. Harper stated again yesterday that the Israeli soldiers must be returned and a solution is difficult unless Hamas "is prepared to accept the principles of the road map [to peace] and to this point they have been unwilling to do so . . ."

The two Prime Ministers also spoke about climate change and the Kyoto accord, targets of which the Harper government says it cannot meet. The Blair government is a supporter of Kyoto. But Mr. Harper said the two share the same philosophy on climate change.

"The United Kingdom is close to its targets because of what it has done in the past," he told reporters. "As far as the Canadian government, the previous government did not make the necessary decisions in order to be able to respect the targets, but our government certainly does intend to make progress and intends to work with the international community in order to be able to find a long-term solution which will include all the countries which have large emissions."

His most eloquent words concerned the contributions of Canadian and British soldiers to the war on terrorism. In his meeting with Mr. Blair and again in his speech last night, Mr. Harper vowed to continue the fight against terrorism.

"This war on terror will not be easy, nor will it be short, but it must be won," he said. "And Canada's new national government is absolutely determined, once again, to stand shoulder to shoulder with our British allies, to stay the course and to win the fight."

With a report from Canadian Press

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