WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 -- U.S. President Bill Clinton will leave Thursday on a two-day state visit to Ottawa where he will talk with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, address the Parliament and attend a gala dinner in his honor. In advance of the trip, U.S. Ambassador to Canada James Blanchard told reporters that 'relations have never been warmer between the two countries.' The president will be accompanied by his wife Hillary, who will have a separate agenda from her husband. Also traveling with Clinton will be U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor. A highlight of the visit will be the signing of an 'open skies' aviation treaty with cities opening up to commerical airlines on both sides of the border. Clinton's main address in Ottawa will be at the Gothic-style Parliament where he was expected to stress the good neighbor relationship and the growing trade ties through the North American Free Trade Agreement, which also includes Mexico. The president also will be meeting with Quebec opposition leader Lucien Bouchard and Reform Party leader Preston Manning, the rightist leader who has strong support in Western Canada. Clinton arrives one day after Quebec's Bouchard returned to parliament. He lost his left leg to necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) in December. He will meet with Bouchard at a time when polls show slipping support for Quebec's secession from Canada, which Bouchard supports. Despite some grumbling by Canadians, U.S. officials said that it is a tradition to meet with the opposition, although those sessions will be brief.
In another tradition for American presidents, Clinton will plant a tree on the grounds of the estate of the newly installed Governor General Romeo LeBlanc. President Kennedy injured his already ailing back when he planted a tree on the same grounds in 1961. The journey to Canada will be Clinton's first since he took office two years ago. Other presidents have wended their way to the Canadian capital much earlier in their administrations. Former U.S. President George Bush made the trip three weeks after his inauguration in 1989 and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan visited Canada two months after taking his oath in 1981. Blanchard indicated there were no major problems between Canada and the U.S., which share a 3,000-mile border and cooperate 'on almost every issue' including the world's largest trading relationship, the space station, restoring democracy in Haiti, improving Great Lakes water quality, and maintaining one of the closest security alliances. He said that the Clinton is 'very popular' in Canada, explaining that 'it is amore liberal country.' Clinton and Prime Minister Chretien communicate frequently by telephone, but their talks will be private. The two leaders plan to hold a joint news conference on Friday before Clinton departs for Washington. Some points of friction include U.S. complaints over access to Canadian radio-television and telecommunications. Another complaint is that the Chretien government is moving very slowly in phasing out tariffs on eggs, and dairy products. The prime minister is reported to be angry with U.S. overfishing for salmon in the Pacific as well has high U.S. tariffs on sugar products.