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Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives for a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. (JIM YOUNG)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives for a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. (JIM YOUNG)

'Canada got it right,' PM tells U.S. businessmen Add to ...

Canada escaped the worst of the economic crisis because it was prudent - perhaps prudish - enough to swim modestly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a gathering of businessmen and bankers yesterday in New York.

"As the tide went out, the crisis exposed those who had been swimming naked," Mr. Harper said, paraphrasing the American billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

"And it turns out that Canada was not only no skinny dipper, she was also the strongest swimmer," Mr. Harper said in the only public event of his two-day visit, a speech to the Canadian-American Business Council and Canadian Association of New York.

The Prime Minister's visit, which included an Oval Office session with President Barack Obama and a pilgrimage to powerful congressional leaders on Capitol Hill, passed almost entirely unnoticed in the United States, as is typical for most visiting leaders.

According to a text of the speech, distributed in advance by his officials, Mr. Harper credited his government's prudent policies with protecting Canadians from the ravages of the recession.

Don't blame Canada, he told the business audience only a few dozen city blocks from Wall Street, birthplace of many of the risky and unregulated instruments that exacerbated the financial near-meltdown.

"None of the roots of the recession are to be found in Canada," he said.

All countries "suffered from the global economic recession," Mr. Harper said "Canada's management of its economy and financial system proved that "Canada got it right."

That success has positioned the country to reap the benefits of the next boom in the business cycle, as an energy exporter, he said.

"Canada is an emerging clean-energy superpower," Mr. Harper said, claiming the country's "vast storehouse of natural resources ... will fuel the next round of global growth."

Already Canada is the largest energy exporter to the United States and "the only American energy supplier that is growing, stable and market-oriented."

Oil sands, the vast but carbon-laden resources in Alberta and Saskatchewan, which were targeted by environmental activists during his Washington visit - they dubbed the Prime Minister Carbon Bigfoot - were never directly mentioned by Mr. Harper.

But a major political fight is shaping up over the oil sands, whether Congress deems them attractive because of their proximity and lack of political risk or slaps them with penalties because they are "dirty" in terms of climate-changing carbon.

Earlier, Mr. Harper met with congressional leaders hoping to persuade them to scrap the Buy American provision that keeps Canadian companies from bidding on most of the $800-billion in U.S. taxpayer-funded stimulus spending.

He got a warm welcome but no promises.

"Like any relationship it requires communication and discussion," said House of Representatives Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican.

The Prime Minister spoke to reporters before the meetings with congressional leaders. "It's always a great honour for us to come and visit our friends in the United States, our most enduring ally, our closest neighbour and far and away our best friend in the world," Mr. Harper said, adding "We are just so lucky to have you as a neighbour."

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