- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

TORONTO — In a White House meeting today with Canada’s first Conservative prime minister in 12 years, President Bush will find an ideological soul mate who has moved quickly to rebuild his country’s long-neglected military and committed to keeping 2,300 troops in Afghanistan through 2009.

Long known for its blue-helmeted peacekeepers, Canada has been eager to alert Americans to a more militaristic image. A smartly designed Web site (www.canadianally.com) — promoted with ads in the D.C. Metro system and elsewhere — bristles with photos of Canadian troops in action abroad.

More significantly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government last month announced a major increase in troop strength and plans to spend $13.5 billion on new ships, trucks, helicopters and aircraft. The announcement was coupled with an extension of the Canadian troop commitment in Afghanistan.

The United States has urged Ottawa to spend more money to rebuild a military that has been embarrassed by having to hitch rides or borrow equipment from coalition troops.

Mr. Bush also can expect a major improvement in atmospherics after years of prickly relations with Liberal Party governments, whose members were accused at times of adopting anti-American positions to score political points.

Bruce Campbell, executive director of the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, said Mr. Harper, who took office on Feb. 6, is “ideologically much closer” to Mr. Bush than previous prime ministers were.

“I’m sure the personal chemistry will be much better,” said Mr. Campbell, whose Ottawa-based research institute focuses on social and economic justice.

Despite continuing distaste for Bush administration policies in most Canadian opinion polls, analysts do not think a warmer relationship with Washington will do Mr. Harper any harm at home.

“Canadians take a very pragmatic view about their relationship,” said Tim Woolstencroft, managing partner of Strategic Counsel, a research firm based in Ottawa. “We want to have good relations with the United States and resolve issues and concerns.”

A bonus for both leaders will be the apparent resolution of a long-standing trade dispute over softwood lumber that had become the largest irritant in bilateral relations. A tentative deal was initialed on Saturday — Canada’s independence day — and awaits approval by affected timber companies.

The agreement requires Canadian producers to drop lawsuits against the U.S. and needs companies representing 95 percent of the duties to accept its language.

Canada and the U.S. have been at odds on the issue since 1982, with the U.S. accusing Canadian provinces of subsidizing domestic sawmills by charging below-market rates to harvest timber on government land. A temporary agreement expired in 2001.

The United States also is looking to Canada as an increasing source of energy, with special interest in the massive deposits in the so-called “oil sands” of Alberta. The province has been represented at this week’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall in Washington with dancers and a chuckwagon racing team.

“You need not worry about dealing with a despot or an unstable regime to access that energy,” Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, told the Canadian Press wire service.

But nothing will be more important to the relationship than the new commitment to military spending. Paul Cellucci, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, wrote in an autobiography that “his main instruction from the State Department and from the White House was to push Canada to increase military spending.”

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