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French President making historical trip to Western Canada

French President Francois Hollande arrives in Canada for a state visit in Calgary, Alberta on Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014.


Standing in front of a postcard-ready view of the Rocky Mountains, President François Hollande announced his intention to shift France's economic ties with Canada toward the Western provinces during his visit Sunday.

As part of the first state visit by a French leader to Canada in a quarter-century, Mr. Hollande called for a "new era" in his country's relationship with "a great friend."

The French President also expressed his sorrow for Canada's recent losses to terrorism as he made note of the deaths of two Canadian soldiers, killed last month in what police have described as terrorist attacks.

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"I want to express all of France's solidarity with the families of the victims tragically murdered in those terrorist attacks that caused such grief to your country," said Mr. Hollande during a state luncheon at the Banff Springs Hotel.

The trip to Canada came after an invitation from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who greeted Mr. Hollande moments after his jet landed in snowy Calgary. The President was accompanied by senior cabinet ministers and a number of prominent French business leaders looking to drum up business in the West.

"I wanted to come to Alberta to provide a new energy for our relationship with Western Canada," Mr. Hollande said. "We hope to help create great wealth from the vast richness of northwestern Canada."

Mr. Hollande is scheduled to address Parliament on Monday before visiting Quebec. In front of a military honour guard, Mr. Harper welcomed the French President on the Rundle Terrace of the hotel.

"I'm biased as an Albertan, we have a wonderful country but I don't think we have a more beautiful spot than Banff," said Mr. Harper.

France is Canada's eighth-largest commercial partner, with bilateral trade surpassing $8.5-billion in 2013. That relationship is expected to grow after the signature of a new free-trade deal with the European Union.

While Mr. Harper and the French leader spoke about Ebola and ongoing international conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine, the conversation centred on the economy.

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As part of Mr. Hollande's delegation, Flavien Kulawik made a number of contacts with local officials as his project management company looks to expand in Canada.

"We have a small team in Montreal, which is a classic for French companies, but I'm quite impressed by what I've seen in Calgary," said Mr. Kulawik. "I see an opportunity for us. The oil and gas industry here is massive."

Despite some recent troubles for French companies in the oil sands, an executive for energy giant GDF Suez said the company was looking to expand in Western Canada. With a large interest in the liquefied natural gas plans in neighbouring British Columbia, Denis Simonneau said he echoed Mr. Hollande's call for French business to "Go West."

While he was surrounded by the watercolour sky of Banff, Mr. Hollande did not shy away from the oil sands and the importance of climate change. France will play host to a key climate-change conference in Paris next year.

"I know that there can sometimes be differences [on climate change] because we don't always have the same interests, but we will act together so that the climate conference is successful," said Mr. Hollande.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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