NEW YORK - He chatted amiably with his new friend "Barack," raised Canadian concerns about U.S. trade protectionism on Capitol Hill, and capped his U.S. visit by lauding Canada's economic smarts to a friendly business audience in Manhattan.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's three-day visit to the United States seemed tailor-made for an embattled politician looking for a leg up against a well-travelled rival: Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who has derided him for a lack of action on protectionist U.S. trade policies.

With the fading prospect of a fall election still very much in play, Harper ended his U.S. jaunt on a high note Thursday night in a speech that celebrated Canada's successes in the face of a global economic meltdown that has hit its southern neighbour far harder.

"Despite the turbulence of recent months, Canadian banks are secure, our markets are expanding, our stimulus is working, our taxes are falling, our long-term fiscal position is solid," Harper said in prepared remarks to the Canadian-American Business Council in New York.

"If we stay the course, Canada's future has never looked so bright."

Some in the U.S., where Canada has a reputation for understatement, might have been taken aback to hear Canada trumpeting its own triumphs -- a fact not lost on the prime minister.

"Historically, we Canadians have been known as a polite, quiet and self-effacing people," he said.

"But in my view -- as you may have noticed -- this is no time to hide our light under a bushel. A few months ago, The Economist magazine carried a headline calling Canada, quote, 'A country that got things right."'

Harper also paid brief tribute to Brian Mulroney, the man with whom he's had a rocky relationship, as Conservatives gathered in Montreal to fete the former Tory prime minister and his political accomplishments from a quarter-century ago.

"Tonight in Montreal we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the election of the Mulroney government, the Conservative government that initiated the first modern, comprehensive free trade agreement between our two countries, which subsequently became NAFTA," he said.

"These agreements finally laid to rest the ambivalence Canada had had towards free trade throughout much of our history."

The Manhattan event capped three days of activity for Harper and a coterie of cabinet ministers in the U.S. capital. The highlight was the prime minister's meeting in the storied Oval Office with Obama, where he casually dropped the president's first name.

Obama, for his part, kept things more formal by referring to his counterpart as "Prime Minister Stephen Harper."

The U.S. visit focused on Afghanistan, border security, the so-called "Buy American" procurement policies and energy -- a topic Harper emphasized during his speech Thursday despite lingering controversy surrounding the environmental legacy of Alberta's oilsands projects.

"Canada is an emerging clean energy super-power," he said.

"Through the Canada-U.S. clean energy dialogue, we are working with the Obama administration to develop clean energy technologies and a North American approach on emission reductions going into the Copenhagen meeting on climate change."

Save for

Earlier Thursday, Harper met with some of the most powerful politicians in the United States, defending Canadian interests as America's single largest trading partner.

Harper took the unusual step of paying a prime ministerial visit to Capitol Hill to meet with Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Republican John Boehner and other influential lawmakers.

The Prime Minister's Office said Harper pressed his point on the so-called Buy American provisions that Congress inserted into Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package earlier this year.