POLITICS

Harper Claims 'Great' Relationship With Obama Amid Keystone Criticism

09/29/2015 12:17 EDT | Updated 09/29/2015 12:59 EDT

Stephen Harper dismissed as an "invention" the notion that his past remarks about Barack Obama's refusal to approve a contentious pipeline have damaged their relationship.

At the Munk foreign policy debate Monday, the Conservative leader faced criticism from both NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau over the way he has pushed Obama on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Harper said there is nothing Obama has asked Canada to do, and that the American president will make a decision on the project on his own assessment of American interests.

Mulcair highlighted how the Conservative leader told an audience in New York City in 2011 that the project was a "complete no-brainer." Then, in 2013, Harper told another American audience that he would not "take no for an answer" when it came to the pipeline.

"Well, guess what? The answer was no and you weren't able to do anything about it," Mulcair said.

The NDP leader also noted that Harper stated earlier this year that if the Obama administration didn't approve the project, the next administration — be it a Democrat or Republican in the White House — surely would.

"There's an old saying, Mr. Harper, that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar," Mulcair said. "I think you were pouring vinegar by the gallon on the Americans."

Mulcair reiterated his opposition to the Keystone pipeline, saying it would lead to the export of 40,000 jobs.

Harper 'doesn't' like Barack Obama': Trudeau

Trudeau, went a step further, accusing Harper of souring a critical personal connection with Obama by narrowing the entire relationship with the United States to a "single point" around the pipeline.

That singular focus, the Liberal leader charged, meant fewer discussions with the U.S. about Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, Canada's auto sector, and other areas of growth.

"Canadians are sitting around worried about their jobs because we have a prime minister that doesn't like Barack Obama," Trudeau said. "We need to do much better than that."

The Liberal leader, who supports the pipeline, also criticized the Tory leader for going to New York to "harangue" the president.

Harper said both his rivals were way off-base.

"We have a great relationship with the U.S. administration. I have a great relationship with President Obama, and by the way, the Americans have never said otherwise and neither have we," he said. "This is just an invention."

The Tory leader pointed to the Beyond the Border initiatives — a project of "unprecedented scope"— as an example of Canada-U.S. partnership.

But he also highlighted collaboration on the bombing mission against the Islamic State — something that Mulcair and Trudeau would end.

And that decision, Harper said, is one that would truly damage Canada-U.S. relations.

"Imagine, the first day of office, that we would have a prime minister who would say to the United States: we are pulling out of the joint military mission against the Islamic State," Harper said. "And why? Because you, Mr. Obama, are continuing the policy of George W. Bush."

Both Trudeau and Mulcair have in the past made references to the 2003 Iraq war while explaining their opposition to the current mission.

"Seriously," Harper said. "You really want to poison the relationship, that will be the way to do it."

Last week, Hillary Clinton, front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, revealed she opposes the Keystone pipeline. She also blasted Alberta oil as the "continent's dirtiest fuel."

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