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Obama earns rave reviews after chats with Canadians

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OTTAWA - He told Michael Ignatieff he'd read his books. He discussed parenthood with Stephen Harper. And he chatted about Haiti with Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean.

All three Canadians declared they established an immediate rapport with Barack Obama during the U.S. president's first foreign visit. And Canada's prime minister, opposition leader, and Governor General emerged with rave reviews after meeting the rookie president.

Each one of those encounters lasted far longer than scheduled and the Canadian participants came away applauding Obama's policy grasp and people skills.

Harper and Obama shooed away aides twice when they opened the door to the Prime Minister's Office and attempted to cut short a private one-on-one meeting.

Canadian and U.S. aides walked in after 20 minutes, then again after 25, but were to leave the room as a scheduled 10-minute meeting dragged on more than three times that length.

Private chats between leaders are loathed by government officials, who fear that with no note-takers or advisers present a pair of over-exuberant bosses might wind up making dumb decisions.

But Harper said one-on-one time allows leaders to discuss more than just government policy.

He said that before the advisers and government note-takers joined them Thursday, he and Obama waded into subjects like long-term dreams for their families and countries.

The opposition leader's meeting with Obama also lasted double the allotted time, with Ignatieff and the president sitting together for a half-hour in an airport lounge instead of the scheduled 15 minutes.

Ignatieff said the visitor was an attentive listener.

For instance, when he raised their shared commitment to making politics less partisan and nasty, he said Obama laid out different challenges he faced in building bridges with Republican lawmakers.

"His replies are very substantial. They're very thoughtful," Ignatieff said.

"It's a form of respect not to me personally. It's a form of respect to our country. He came here and took us very seriously."

They also discussed common friends, like the two Ignatieff confidants who serve as the president's senior economic and foreign-policy advisers.

Obama also told the Liberal leader - who has written a number of books - he'd read his work.

"So that made this particular Canadian author feel pretty good," Ignatieff said.

The Governor General apparently walked away with similar impressions.

Her aides described the president as a careful listener.

After she described her recent trip to hurricane-ravaged Haiti, Obama invited her to Washington and promised to hold follow-up discussions with her about that country.

They also cracked a few jokes.

The president had Jean laughing aloud after she remarked how popular he was in Canada.

Obama replied that he'd already been briefed on his approval ratings north of the border, and cracked that he might have to move here if things go badly down south.

"He makes people feel at ease right away," said Jean spokeswoman Marthe Blouin. She said the meeting was scheduled for 20 minutes, but went about six minutes longer.

All three Canadians expressed agreement that Obama's easygoing reputation was well-founded.

The prime minister told aides he was most impressed with the president's ability to remain calm in the face of threats Canadians don't generally fret about - like hostile, nuclear-armed states - and the far more severe economic downturn south of the border.

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