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Is Harper playing down Obama?

Ottawa bureau chief Brian Laghi took questions on the meeting between the Prime Minister and the man some say is the most important U.S. president since FDR

Globe and Mail Update

"Is Stephen Harper playing down expectations for the visit with Barack Obama on Thursday?" Ottawa bureau chief Brian Laghi asks in Tuesday's Globe and Mail. "If so, there may be a pretty good reason.

"So far, there has been surprisingly little of substance said about the meeting between Mr. Harper and the man some say is the most important U.S. president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Unlike the recent federal budget, reporters have yet to be briefed about the government's goals for the sit-down. And Conservatives around town have been told to convey the antiseptic message that Thursday's get-together is a working visit aimed at keeping trade flowing between the two countries.

"So, while Mr. Obama's first foreign trip has created intense interest among Canadians, it doesn't appear that Mr. Harper is trying to heighten the publicity in any way.

"'Harper is at an unfair disadvantage,' says Strategic Counsel pollster Peter Donolo. 'He's up against someone who is as much a symbol as he is a politician.'

"There are a number of reasons why a political leader would want to get close to Mr. Obama. He's new, espouses nonpartisanship and symbolizes hope. But it's also clear that Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama have different views on how to govern and, at this point, Mr. Obama's seems to better reflect the state of public opinion."

To underscore the point, Mr. Obama has been in the national media on almost a daily basis — giving speeches and news conferences across his nation in support of his stimulus package — while Mr. Harper has taken a decidedly quieter approach. Although the Prime Minister has been in the House of Commons and visited communities in various parts of the country — he has mostly avoided the national spotlight, preferring to let his ministers sell the budget. He has not given a full news conference since last year, suggesting he is trying to fly under the radar in an effort to avoid being damaged by the economic crisis.

Norman Spector, meanwhile, lays out the differences between the two leaders like so: "In November, Barack Obama scored a smashing electoral victory, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper nearly lost his government. Yet, when the two meet in Ottawa this week, the President will be coming off a tough fight over his stimulus package, while Mr. Harper has hardly had to break a sweat since the budget was introduced.

"Why the difference? With a minority government, the Conservatives must reach across the floor of the Commons just as Democrats must reach across the Senate aisle. But Mr. Harper faces three parties pressing him to open the spending taps. Mr. Obama must deal with Republicans who, notwithstanding their shameful record, have been attacking him in the name of fiscal prudence."

With all this in mind, Mr. Laghi was online Tuesday to take your questions on this week's meeting between the Prime Minister and the U.S. President. Your questions and Mr. Laghi's responses appear at the bottom of this page.

Mr. Laghi began his journalistic career 25 years ago as a reporter for a small daily newspaper in Fort McMurray, Alta., and also worked as a reporter in Saskatoon before moving to The Edmonton Journal, where he covered politics and served as that paper's legislative bureau chief.

He moved to The Globe and Mail in 1995, covering Alberta and the Arctic for the paper until 1998, when he moved to Ottawa.

Mr. Laghi spent much of the next six years covering the conservative movement in Canada and the merger of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance. He became The Globe's bureau chief in Ottawa in October, 2004.

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