Special Guest Columnist - Michael Coren

Winter 2008 CSANews Issue 69  |  Posted date : Dec 23, 2008.Back to list

I think we've all noticed that the air smells sweeter, our hair is thicker and food tastier now that he whose name we speak in hushed tones has been elected to the presidency. The man, of course, who "baracked" our world. Obama. Now let us all chant the word together in one glorious symphony of praise. Obama! The point being that whatever the man's qualities – and they are many – the adoration splashed over him was a little disproportionate. Yet if it was extreme in the United States, it was even more so in Canada. Barack Obama received around 55% of the vote in his home country but, in Canada, his popularity was above 80%.

There would be something deliciously ironic, if masochistic, if he turned out to be a disaster for Canadians. But it's unlikely to be the case. Insiders claim that in previous meetings, Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have got along rather well. This is hardly surprising in that they're of a similar age, both devoted husbands and fathers, both extremely bright and politically relatively similar. Much as Obama has been painted an extreme liberal and Harper a man with a hidden rightist agenda, they're both fairly moderate pragmatists, one of the centre left and the other of the centre right.

A genuinely warm and respectful relationship between the Canadian and American leaders can achieve far more than endless briefing sessions between diplomats and trade delegations. In terms of policy, Obama referred more than once during the election to the possibility of renegotiating NAFTA because the free trade agreement did not sufficiently protect American jobs.  Frankly, it's highly unlikely that this was anything more than vote-hungry rhetoric. The economic crisis is international and it's Asia rather than Canada that threatens the American worker.

Former secretaries of state, full ambassadors and senior academics from both sides of the border have been applying pressure on Washington to prevent any serious talk of removing NAFTA and it's doubtful that anything fundamental will change. What we might see – for better or for worse – in the next few years is a more obviously open relationship between the United States and its friends, as well as its enemies.

President Bush earned something of an unfair reputation due to his foreign relations. Impossible-to-please countries such as Iran and North Korea and even alleged allies such as France and Spain have an ingrained mistrust of the Anglo-Saxon world. But Obama wants to be perceived as being different and worldly and this should lead to a smoother partnership with Canada regarding passports, residency, financial transfers and border crossings.

It also seems probable that many American troops will be moved from Iraq to Afghanistan and will consequently come into closer contact with Canadian soldiers who are doing such a remarkable job there. We may see U.S. military personnel being trained by Canadians who now have years of tough, battle-refined experience in fighting the Taliban. It should also give Canada's role in the region more of the status it deserves in the American media, which too often assumes that only they and the British are fighting and dying.

Canada will also be more noticeable because the new American administration will be looking to our socialized medical system and public policy programs as a possible model for their own reforms. But truth be told, changes will generally be minimal. With a couple of major wars and a terrifyingly severe global economic challenge with which to cope, Obama will have little time to consider Canada and Canadians – even the 80% of them who would have voted for him.