Wading into the most sensitive issue in Canadian politics, Mr. Clinton declared on Friday: "We are proud to be your partners and allies. We deeply value our relationship with a strong, united, democratic Canada."
His remarks were designed to underscore U.S.-Canadian ties with an hour of policy talks, dedication of a new embassy, a speech in Quebec on federalism and a round of golf with Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
Making his fifth visit to Canada since becoming president, Mr. Clinton bantered with the crowd as he dedicated the $37 million embassy, which will not actually open until next month because of construction delays.
"Your presence once again in Ottawa is a sign to Canadians of the respect you have for our nation, of the value you place in our friendship," Chretien told Mr. Clinton.
"Je suis chez moi au Canada (I am at home in Canada)," the president replied in French.
At a joint news conference, Mr. Clinton explained his plan to meet Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard, an avowed Francophone separatist, later in the day after his speech in Quebec.
"He is the premier of the province, we're going there, he's the host. It's a courtesy and I think I should do it. But there's been no change in our policy whatsoever," he said.
Chretien jumped in, however, when a Canadian reporter asked Mr. Clinton if the United States would recognize a sovereign Quebec if a clear majority answered a clear question in a referendum on independence.
"The question will have to be clear and the majority will have to be clear," Chretien said. "And I know that if they have a clear question, the president of the United States will never have to make a decision on that," he added.
Chretien and Mr. Clinton, who U.S. officials say have developed an amiable relationship in the 23 times they have met, were scheduled to play a friendly round of golf at the Quebec resort Mont Tremblant before the president leaves for Chicago Friday night for a speech to a Hispanic conference.
Mr. Clinton arrived in Ottawa after addressing the politically powerful Teamsters union the night before, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts.
The president met with James Hoffa, the president of the once embattled union, becoming the first president since FDR to meet privately and publicly with the teamstersÂ' boss.
Mr. Clinton was there in part trying to drum up support from organized labor for Vice-President Al Gore's bid for the White House.
The endorsement of labor is important not only for the signal it sends but for the campaign support it can lend, getting people out in the streets, manning phones and getting out to vote.