Stephen Harper

In this Aug. 10, 2009, file photo, President Barack Obama, right, Mexico's President Felipe Calderon, center, and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper attend a North American summit in Gaudalajara, Mexico.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama and the leaders of Canada and Mexico vowed a new effort Monday to boost North American trade — and cut needless regulation that stifles it — in a summit that aimed to shore up a fragile economic recovery.
After a one-day summit with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama said the United States has trimmed outdated and burdensome rules in talks with both its neighbors.

“Our three nations are going to sit down together, go through the books and simplify and eliminate more regulations that will make our joint economies stronger,” he said.

Obama noted trade among the three neighbors now tops $1 trillion a year, and he wants to see that number rise. “This is going to help create jobs,” he said.

The summit ranged broadly across issues of energy and climate change, immigration and the war on drugs.

But notable by its absence from a post-summit news conference in the Rose Garden was the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada’s oil sands in Alberta to the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Obama shelved the plan pending further review, and has endured ferocious GOP attacks ever since, with Republicans calling the move a blow to job creation and U.S. energy needs. He maintains GOP leaders in Congress forced his hand by insisting on a decision before an acceptable pipeline route was found.

Harper has voiced disappointment with Obama’s decision. He also visited China in February to explore alternatives. Canada has the world’s third-largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

Obama, Harper and Calderon will see each other later this month at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. They’re also well-known to each other from international gatherings, but are headed in different electoral directions.

While Obama faces a tough re-election battle for the next seven months, Calderon is term-limited. The battle to succeed him formally kicked off last week and will culminate with Mexican elections July 1. The main issue is the deadly war that his government has waged with drug cartels, which has claimed an estimated 47,000 lives.

By contrast, Harper, who has led Canada since 2006, appears secure in his job, having led his Conservatives from minority status to a majority in Parliament in elections last May. He doesn’t have to face voters again for four years.
Another reason Obama might envy Harper: Thanks to that majority, the budget Harper’s government introduced last week should pass easily, including its budget cuts designed to eliminate Canada’s deficit by 2015.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers his speech during a campaign stop in Montreal, Canada on Friday. Until a few days ago, Monday’s election looked set to give Canada another Conservative mandate, but if recent polls are correct, Prime Minister Harper could be out of a job.

Photo Credit: Adrian Wyld | Associated Press

TORONTO — Canadians voted Monday in an election marked by a late leftward surge in opinion polls that could once again deny Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper a majority in Parliament and perhaps even end his five years
in power.

Harper, who took office in 2006, has won two elections but never with a majority of Parliament’s 308 seats, forcing him to rely on the opposition to pass legislation.

Until last week, most polls indicated Canadian voters would give the Conservative government at least another minority mandate and perhaps even a majority.

But recent polls show a late surge for the New Democratic Party, making it one of the country’s most unpredictable elections in recent memory.

While the left-center vote could end up splitting between the New Democrats and Liberals, allowing Harper to eke out a majority, if Harper is held to another minority a new scenario has emerged in which the New Democrats and the Liberals together win enough seats to form a New Democrat-led coalition.

“We can change the government. We’re not just going to oppose Mr. Harper, we’re going to replace him,” said New Democrat leader Jack Layton, whose party has socialist roots.

Ekos, a private polling company, gave the Conservatives 34.6 percent, the New Democrats 31.4 per cent and the Liberals 20.4. The pollsters said they questioned 3,268 people with a margin of error of 1.7 percentage points. A series of other polls have reported similar results.

Another surprise is that polls predict the New Democrats would eclipse the Liberals, who throughout Canadian history were the party that was either in power or leading the opposition.

The sudden shift reflected in the polls raised another, even more improbable scenario: that the New Democrats would win the most votes and leader Jack Layton, a little known figure outside Canada, would become prime minister.

The New Democrats’ gains are being attributed to Layton’s strong performance in the debates, a folksy, upbeat message and a desire by the French-speakers in Quebec, the second most populous province, for a new face.

A New Democrat led-government would be a sharp turn to the left for Canada, as the party is promising to cap interest rates charged on credit cards, increase corporate taxes, introduce a cap-and-trade system to combat global warming.

Harper said it would be an “enormous risk” for Canada’s economy if he doesn’t get a majority and said a New Democrat-led coalition would mean higher taxes and job losses.