OTTAWA (AP) Stung by a pop quiz about foreign leaders earlier in his campaign, U.S. Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has fallen victim to a foreign affairs prank.
Canadians are chuckling over his on-air answer when a comic posing as a reporter made up a story that Canadian Prime Minister "Jean Poutine"; had endorsed him.
"I appreciate his strong statement[,] he understands I believe in free trade," Bush replied. "He understands I want to make sure our relations with our most important neighbour to the north of us, the Canadians, is strong and we'll work closely together."
Canada's prime minister is Jean Chretien, not Poutine, and he has endorsed no one in U.S. politics. Poutine is a popular food in the French-speaking province of Quebec, consisting of french fries, gravy and cheese curd.
"The stunt was pulled by comic Rick Mercer from "This Hour Has 22 Minutes," a satirical TV show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Mercer, who sets up politicians for laughs. He button-holed Bush at a campaign event in Michigan before that state's Republican primary last month and fired several questions at him about a Prime Minister Poutine.
Canadians are keenly aware how little Americans know about them, a sense reinforced by Mercer, who has traveled in the United States fishing for evidence of that ignorance.
The real prime minister's office took the episode in stride, offering this response: "Clearly, Canada is not in the Bush leagues."
Gov. John Engler of Michigan, a border state with Canada, also didn't catch on when asked about Poutine at the same event. But he did seem surprised that a Canadian leader would supposedly take sides in a U.S. election.
In Arkansas, Mercer got Gov. Mike Huckabee to congratulate Canadians on their efforts to preserve their "national igloo," which Mercer had told him was melting because of global warming.
And he got American professors to sign a petition urging and end to the "Toronto polar bear hunt." Toronto is a city of 2.4 million people without any such bears.
Mercer said it's easy to lead his victims astray because they expect a straight question from someone they think is with the media.
"People don't really expect reporters to be asking trick questions," he said Monday. "It's all in really good fun."