Harper wraps up London visit, heads to Paris

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LONDON – Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented Queen Elizabeth with her Diamond Jubilee gift Wednesday morning at Buckingham Palace – a giant portrait of her painted by Canadian artist Phil Richards.

The Queen seem quite taken by the size of it – nine feet high by six feet wide. It’s a standard size, Richards said, for an official painting – and she wondered if it would even fit in Rideau Hall, the painting’s eventual point of display.

"This portrait represents the appreciation of all Canadians for sixty years of outstanding service to our country and the Commonwealth," Harper said to the Queen.

Richards had previously done Bob Rae’s official portrait when the federal Liberal interim leader was premier of Ontario. Richards worked on the Queen’ piece for two years.

Harper’s private audience with the Queen was the last of the prime minister’s events connected to the Diamond Jubilee. For three days here, he’s attended concerts, pageants, parades, and a service of thanksgiving in historic St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Harper now turns his attention to matters of state and the global economy.

On Wednesday afternoon, he held a closed-door meeting with some business leaders and then jetted to Paris where, on Thursday morning, he’ll have a meeting with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace.

Those meetings are bound to be dominated by the worsening fiscal crisis in Europe.

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said his country is in a situation of "extreme difficulty", while his budget minister, Cristobal Montoro, said his government’s fiscal situation is so dire that it "does not have the door to the markets open."

In other words, the world’s banks now think Spain is about to turn into Greece.

Harper, in an interview with the London-based Financial Times, clearly showed his frustration with the failure of European leaders to get their fiscal house in order.

"We’re four years into the crisis and we’re still trying to get a sense of what the game plan is," Harper told the paper. "We need measures that are going to be decisive."