Sunday, November 2, 2008

Canada/U.S. relations under Obama

If Senator Barack Obama wins on Tuesday, as he’s expected to do, I wonder how Canada/U.S. relations will be affected?

Obama For sure we will have a better starting point from which to operate than we did back in 2000 when George W. Bush entered the White House. For President Bush, Canada was a frozen white mystery stretching along his country’s northern border. He knew next to nothing about our country and seemed to care even less.

Nine days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, George W. delivered a speech in which he thanked 34 nations for their assistance. He failed to mention Canada, even though hundreds of flights carrying American citizens had made emergency landings here, when the U.S. government banned flights over their country.

During his first administration, our Country was treated shabbily over the U.S. illegal tariff on imports of softwood lumber from Canada and long delays in lifting an unnecessary 2003 ban on Canadian beef imports into the United States.

When President Bush finally visited Canada in November 2004, Prime Minister Martin had wanted Mr. Bush to speak to the House of Commons, as is customary for visiting American presidents, but Mr. Bush declined.

It was clear to all that the president’s visit had more to do with his effort to improve the image of the United States amid mounting international anger over the war in Iraq. And that he was using that overnight trip as a warm-up to a damage-control visit he was to make to European capitals early the following year.

With Senator Obama, we will have an American president who has, at least, visited Canada and knows something about our country. I believe his half-sister lives here in Burlington and he has visited our town.

I am not too worried about his promise to renegotiate NAFTA. His concerns seem more directed at trade agreements with countries with significantly lower labour standards. Ours are at least the equal of those in America.

And I do see the PM and the senator seeing eye to eye on many foreign policy issues. Stephen Harper is not as far to the right and Barack Obama is not as far to the left politically as many in the main stream media paint them. I see two highly intelligent men with lots of room for shared views.

I think the PM is more likely to follow Brian Mulroney’s model for Canada/U.S. relations than Jean Chrétien or Paul Martin’s. Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government, saw first-hand the benefits of a prime minister getting along well with a U.S. president. Neither Chrétien nor Martin could duplicate the sort of unofficial “most-favoured nation” status Canada enjoyed during the Mulroney era.

Senator Obama has said Afghanistan is going to be his priority. Therefore, Canada is a major contributor to what will be the major overseas engagement of the United States. This will provide an opportunity for Prime Minister Harper to explore the political dimensions of that conflict with an engaged president.

It took George W. Bush four years to get to a point where he understood something about Canada. I believe Senator Obama will be there on day one.


  1. I believe his half-sister lives here in Burlington and he has visited our town.

    Actually, his half sister lives in Hawaii. Her husband is a Canadian from Burlington. Having Canadian inlaws doesn't mean he's any more aware of Canada than Bush was.

    I'll reserve judgement. I still think that Obama will be bad for Canada, especially with a Democratic House.

  2. I too think relations will be much better. The Tories are somewhere between the Democrats and Republicans on the political spectrum while the Liberals lie slightly to the left of the Democrats and the NDP well to the left so a Republican administration and a Liberal one was bound to fail. While I think Harper wanted to mend fences with the Bush administration, he had to be careful since Bush was so unpopular in Canada that getting too cozy would have hurt him. On the other hand, Obama is well liked in Canada, so he can work closely with him without getting hurt politically. The NAFTA gate thing is probably old news by now and unlike Bush, Obama doesn't strike me as a vindictive person who will want to punish those he doesn't like.

    Also, on the environment, foreign policy, and border security, an Obama administration should be better. With the Democrats being stronger in the border states with Canada as opposed to those bordering Mexico, they are likely to realize the benefits if an open border whereas many Republicans are from the South and know little about Canada, so whatever they plan to do to crack down on the US-Mexican border, they apply equally to Canada.

    As for renegotiating NAFTA, if anything this probably applied more to Mexico who has lower labour and environmental standards than the US, whereas Canada's if anything are higher. Besides they need our oil, so we could simply propose to remove the proportional sharing clause and they would back down pretty quickly.

    As for ideology, I think Harper is more right wing than Obama, but both have to deal with the political realities in each of their respective countries. The average Canadian is to the left of Harper while the average American is to the right of Obama, so both have to moderate their views if they wish to get re-elected. So when you take this into consideration, they shouldn't be too far apart.

  3. Hello, Obama has never visited Canada! It is McCain that come up here. Obama thought we have a "President".

    Or try this one:

    Read what Obama thinks about oil, it might give a hint of what Canada can look forward to if he wins.

  4. Oh yes, Obama knows sooooo much about Canada. I guess that's why he believed that Canada had a President. He likes us so much that when he went out to meet the world, he avoided Canada.

    Might I remind you, there's only 3 countries in NAFTA, the USA, Canada and Mexico. Do you really believe that if Obama only meant Mexico that he wouldn't just say it? His talk of 'higher standards' is just a ruse to install protectionist measures all around.

    If you recall, talk of safety standards blocked Canadian trade of beef with other nations, talk of unfair 'stumping fees' grounded Canadian lumber trade with the USA, etc.. Obama also supports the massive farm subsidies that are killing Canadian farmers. (McCain opposed it - which is why he's losing Iowa)

    As to foreign affairs, Canada has committed to pulling out of Afghanistan by 2011. Obama wants us to stay. That'll cause a lot of problems for sure.

  5. Well, if Obama didn't visit Burlington, then our local newspaper must have Photoshopped him into a picture of our lakefront park.

  6. See here..

  7. Obama was here.


  8. Wow.. in 2004 he visited Canada. Yet again, I'll repeat myself: When he went out to meet the world (See his 'tour the world' event) he avoided Canada.

    He also lived in Indonesia when he was a child. How much you want to bet he doesn't even know who the President of Indonesia is?


    I love the entire 'Republicans don't know nothing about Canada' line. Because its wrong. (see my previous comments regarding Obama and President of Canada)

    Besides, for you to believe that Obama doesn't intend to renegotiate NAFTA to our detriment (their gain) you'd have to believe that Obama lied when he talked about getting our 'President' on the phone and changing NAFTA during a primary debate.

    If he was telling the truth, then we're in trouble. If he was lying, then we have no idea if he's going to be good or bad.

    As to removal of oil, rest assured that Obama will use his popularity in Canada to force Harper to do what Obama wants under threat of angering 'the One'.

    Suppose Canada acts all hardball in negotiations. Obama goes out and tells the press that Harper is behaving 'like a spoiled brat' and is being 'obstructionist' and that Canada-US relations will suffer as a result of Harper's 'inflexibility'.

    How far do you want to bet Harper's poll numbers will drop because of all the Obama-lovers out there.

    Don't believe he'll do it? Check out how he responded to some of the media when he got tougher questions. He told them that they were no longer going to have access to his presence.

    Obama's not vindictive though.. not at all.

  9. I love the entire 'Republicans don't know nothing about Canada' line. Because its wrong. (see my previous comments regarding Obama and President of Canada)

    On average, Republicans tend to be more ignorant about Canada. Never mind much of their base tends to talk about Canada being exactly what the US should not be and often portrays the country in a negative light, whereas the Democrats tend to point to Canada as an example of what works. In addition most Republicans in congress come from the Southern states where people are generally ignorant about Canada.

    Besides, for you to believe that Obama doesn't intend to renegotiate NAFTA to our detriment (their gain) you'd have to believe that Obama lied when he talked about getting our 'President' on the phone and changing NAFTA during a primary debate.

    I disagree here. When you consider how the Bush administration screwed us over on softwood lumber and only were free traders when it served their interest, I fail to see what we have to worry about. Besides I would love to see the proportional sharing clause removed from the agreement as well as an exemption for water placed in the treaty so we are never forced to sell our water to the US. As for labour and environmental standards, ours are generally higher than the US anyways, so little to fear here. Besides the Democrats will be far better on border security than the Republicans. Louise Slaughter who represents New York 27 which includes Buffalo and Rochester has been one of the most vocal opponents of the new passport requirements while you have several Republican congressmen who want to build a fence along the Canadian border and some who even want to slap visas on Canadian visitors. It is pretty tough to have efficient trade with long border line-ups and difficulties crossing.

    As for the Oil requirements in Alberta, I suspect most Canadians would applaud this. The tar sand growth is not environmentally sustainable. And in addition this would only hurt Alberta and to a lesser extent Saskatchewan and when one considers who popular the NEP was in Eastern Canada, I don't see why this wouldn't be popular too. Now I don't support shutting down the oil sands or bringing in another NEP, but now is the time to use the wealth from the oil to diversify the economy in Alberta.