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updated 12/1/2004 10:57:40 AM ET 2004-12-01T15:57:40

In Ottawa, it was all smiles Tuesday as President Bush shook hands with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and kicked off a two-day state visit. But beneath the surface, this trip has been described as awkward.  There are trade disputes over beef and the U.S. and Canadian governments have been sharply at odds over the war in Iraq.

Bush received a lukewarm welcome.  During this presidential visit, tens of thousands of Canadian demonstrators were on the streets.  One party leader, who is supposed to meet President Bush during a dinner, encouraged people to protest.

Recently, a member of parliament, Carolyn Parish, stomped on a Bush doll for a comedy show.   She said it was a joke but her party expelled her.

The sensitivities go back a few years.  Canada has long been America's closest ally, a gentle and peaceful neighbor that sacrificed with the U.S. during both world wars.

But two years ago, as the U.S. was preparing for war with Iraq, a spokesperson for Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien described President Bush as a "moron."

The off the record remark was the talk of a NATO summit.  In case anybody missed it, Chretien repeated the slur even as he said it wasn't true.

Several Bush administration officials thought Chretien's comment was deliberate.  His government had complained loudly about America's post-9/11 border security rules. 

American movies were also in the fray, with cartoons such as “South Park” mocking the country.

To avoid reopening any old wounds, President Bush will not be addressing the Canadian parliament.  Members there have a tradition of heckling speakers, as they did with Ronald Reagan in 1987.

On this trip, President Bush will conduct a series of private meetings and try to build a relationship with Prime Minister Martin that was impossible with his unpredictable predecessor Jean Chretien.

The Bush administration also hopes to strengthen American access to Canada's low priced prescription drugs and capitalize on this post-election opportunity for Mr. Bush to re-engage with our allies.

If this approach does work in Canada, administration officials believe it will be the model when the president tours Europe early next year.

Catch more of David Shuster's reports on 'Hardball,' 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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