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In advance of visit to Canada, Obama heaps praise on northern neighbor

TORONTO — On the eve of his trip to Canada, President Barack Obama has turned on the charm.

He heaped praise on Canada during a 10-minute interview Tuesday night with the CBC network, lauding America’s northern neighbor for its natural beauty, its handling of the economy and its multiculturalism.

He stressed that the United States should look to Canada for examples of how to run a healthy financial sector.

“One of the things that I think has been striking about Canada is that in the midst of this enormous economic crisis, I think Canada has shown itself to be a pretty good manager of the financial system and the economy in ways that we haven’t always been here in the United States,” Obama told Peter Mansbridge, the state-owned network’s anchor.

“And I think that’s important for us to take note of; that it’s possible for us to have a vibrant banking sector, for example, without taking some of the wild risks that have resulted in so much trouble on Wall Street,” he added.

Obama made the comments just before his visit to Canada Thursday, his first foreign trip since becoming president.

Obama said he had visited Canada a couple of times, most recently to see his brother-in-law’s family in Burlington, a town near Toronto.

“I think that Canada is one of the most impressive countries in the world: The way it has managed a diverse population (and) a vibrant economy; the natural beauty of Canada is extraordinary,” Obama said.

“Obviously, there’s an enormous kinship between the United States and Canada. And the ties that bind our two countries together are things that are very important to us,” he added.

Mansbridge reminded Obama that “you carry Canada on your belt; that Blackberry is a Canadian invention.”

“Absolutely,” Obama replied, chuckling.

Obama also commented on some of the issues he’ll likely discuss with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He tried to reassure Canada that “Buy American” provisions in his nearly $800 billion stimulus package were not the start of protectionism south of the border.

He dodged the question when asked if he considers oil from the Alberta oil sands — which the U.S. imports — “dirty oil.” But he expressed concern about the “big carbon footprint” produced to extract oil from the sands and called on countries to work together to reduce greenhouse gases.

On Afghanistan, Obama wouldn’t say if he would ask Canada to keep its troops there until after 2011, the date the Canadian government has set for their withdrawal.

But the interview ended on a light note.

“You still haven’t seen your first hockey game,” Mansbridge said.

“I’m looking forward to making it happen at some point,” he said, chuckling.