Prime Minister Stephen Harper has congratulated Barack Obama on winning the U.S. presidency, saying he's looking forward to "building a strong working relationship" with his administration.

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President-elect Barack Obama walks on stage to deliver his victory speech at his election night party at Grant Park in Chicago on Tuesday night.

"I look forward to meeting with the president-elect so that we can continue to strengthen the special bond that exists between Canada and the United States," Harper said in a statement issued after Obama's win on Tuesday night.

Harper, who was re-elected as prime minister less than a month before the U.S. election, said it is vital for the shared benefit of both countries to work together on the "important issues facing families on both sides of the border."

Obama made history on Tuesday with a victory over  Republican rival John McCain at a time when the U.S. is engulfed in two wars abroad and domestic economic turmoil.

Obama's inauguration is set for Jan. 20, 2009.

Members of both the ruling Conservative party, and the opposition Liberals gathered at separate events across Ottawa to watch the results roll in.

"Most [of us] are leaning towards Obama," one Conservative staffer said before the election was called. "But still the general overall thought, I think for us, is that either [one] is better than George W."

One Liberal suggested the Democrat's win would ease criticism of the Conservatives, who have been dogged by accusations their views share an unpopular alignment with those of current U.S. President George W. Bush.

"We can't play the Bush card on them anymore," the Liberal said, asking not to be quoted by name.

In a telephone conversation Tuesday night, Bush congratulated Obama on his victory and invited him and his family to visit to the White House soon.

"You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life. Congratulations and go enjoy yourself," Bush told Obama, according to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Harper said Canadian officials will be working with Obama's transition team in the weeks ahead.

"Canadian officials and diplomats will be working closely with members of president-elect Obama's transition team. Ministers in our government look forward to building a strong working relationship with their counterparts in a new Obama cabinet," the statement read.

Newly appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon last week said Canadian politicians have laid the groundwork for continuing a strong relationship with whoever becomes the next U.S. president, although he noted he had attended the Democratic party convention in August.

Cannon dismissed the idea that the so-called NAFTA-gate scandal would affect Canada's relationship with Obama. Earlier this year, CTV broadcast a report alleging an Obama official told Canada the Democratic presidential hopeful's threat to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement was only political rhetoric.

Obama was put on the hot seat again when someone leaked a Canadian diplomatic memo outlining a conversation where an Obama representative reassured a Canadian consular official that his threats on NAFTA were to be seen as "more reflective of political manoeuvring than policy."

"I don't view that as being the most important issue on the plate," Cannon told CBC News, adding that volatility in the marketplace was likely a more pressing issue for both countries.

Indeed, some experts said Tuesday that Obama will likely be a good ally in trade and economic relations, and that the NAFTA-gate brouhaha was mostly hot air.

"Canada can live very well with a president Obama," said Thomas d'Aquino, president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, representing the country's largest companies.

"I've watched many elections in the U.S. and what is said in a campaign and what comes out of the Oval Office are often very different."

Many Canadians seem to agree that an Obama presidency is ideal, with most polls suggesting close to 80 per cent saying they would have voted for him if they could.

With files from the Canadian Press