OTTAWA (AFP) — US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's campaign, although chiding rival Barack Obama for telling US voters he is anti-NAFTA while saying otherwise to Canada, tried to reassure Canada too, local media said Thursday.
A top aide of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper meanwhile was identified as the source of a possible leak in the diplomatic fiasco involving both US Democratic presidential contenders.
Last month, Harper's chief of staff, Ian Brodie, purportedly made impromptu remarks to journalists about Clinton's US presidential bid, according to Canadian reports.
The offhand comments apparently sought to downplay the potential impact on Canada of Clinton and Obama's attacks on the North American Free Trade Agreement during stops in the US state of Ohio.
Brodie told CTV reporters that the Clinton campaign had called the Canadian embassy in Washington to tell officials to take her anti-NAFTA rhetoric "with a grain of salt," said local media.
Around the same time, a news agency reported that a Canadian government memo detailed a meeting between Obama's chief economic advisor Austan Goolsbee and officials from the Canadian consulate in Chicago.
The memo reportedly said Goolsbee noted Obama's attacks on NAFTA should not be taken out of context, citing fiercely protectionist sentiment in Ohio about the pact and political positioning as a motivation.
Although CTV News had the Clinton allegations last month, it only reported then that Obama had tried to reassure the Canadians. A spokesman for CTV News was not immediately available for comment.
In a televised debate last month in Ohio, both Obama and Clinton said if the next US president is a Democrat, Mexico and Canada would be pressured to renegotiate NAFTA.
The 1994 trade pact created the largest trading bloc in the world by eliminating import tariffs on goods circulating among partners Canada, the United States and Mexico.
But free trade and NAFTA in particular is a fiercely contentious issue in Ohio, which has been badly hit by the flight of blue collar jobs abroad, and increased global economic competition.
As the scandal unfolded, Clinton accused Obama's campaign of giving the Canadian government "the old wink-wink."
Obama responded: "Nobody reached out to the Canadians to try to assure them of anything," but the Goolsbee meeting was later confirmed.
The affair has embarrassed Canada's diplomatic corps and may have cost Obama votes in the Ohio primaries on Tuesday.
The prime minister's office has said Brodie "does not recall" making the statements to reporters, and Harper himself denied that Brodie leaked any information.
On Wednesday, Harper announced a probe into the "blatantly unfair" and possibly illegal leaking of a government memo.
But opposition parties urged Harper to fire Brodie for the alleged Clinton leak and called for a federal police investigation of the whole case.
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