Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack Obama - U.S. President Elect

The Canayjun perspective of the historical Presidential election win by Senator Barack Obama...

First, I was interested in the National Post commentary that Obabma's win is not, in fact, an "historic" event. Nov.8,2008 - "...A historic first, a newly minted coin, would be an election in which a candidate’s skin colour is as unremarkable as his or her hair colour. When a candidate’s skin colour passes unnoticed, that will be a historic first for America". I see the reasoning, but still - most would agree that it does pass for what we consider to be a moment that will go down in history. My goal here is to comment on the Canadian perspective and perhaps one of the most remarked differences is the political correctness of headlines in the U.S. as opposed to Canada. Browsing news feeds online on election night, at the first declaration by major news agencies, NBC quickly changed their headline from first black president to first African American president. Whereas most Canadian and international reports refer to the new black president elect. I understand the U.S. media's motivation, where race relation issues run deep, but they sometimes go to extremes: in a recent Digg.com posting the headline reads "African-American Canadians versus Americans..." and garnered a wave of comments ridiculing the political correctitude - just what is an "African-American Canadian"? American journalists reporting on world news often identify foreign nationals in countries like Europe and elsewhere as "African-American" to indicate their race. Oh well... back to the canayjun view.

What does it mean to Canadians? How will it affect Canada as a nation and people?

The left liberal view in Canada has long been that our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has long cozyed up a little to comfortably to President Geo W Bush's fiscal and foreign policy. It remains to be seen, how the still minority PM, so comfortable with U.S. Republican right wing policies, will adapt to Obama and the Democrats. Small 'l' liberals in Canada including the NDP, Liberals, Greens and surviving Red Tories have historically opposed right wing U.S. politics, often conjuring up that old bogeyman, the religious right, as dangerous and un-democratic. A recent Toronto Star article from Saturday, November 8th, 2008, trumpets the demise of the evangelicals thought to hold too much sway in American government. Similar criticisms have often been aimed at Harper's new Conservative Party of Canada. (although Harper himself went on an anti-religious witch-hunt when he ran against Stockwell Day as the leader of the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, referring mysteriously to Day's "meetings in church basements" and outspoken evangelical world view).

The real issues though are a select few, as evidenced by the recent Canadian election issues.

  • Economy & Trade
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Defense & Foreign Policy

You would assume that our Conservatives would get along better with Republicans and the Liberals with Democrats, but if we look at recent history between the two nations, supposedly the best of neighbours, the lines aren't as clearly drawn.

On the economic front, and long before the recent worldwide economic crisis triggered by the U.S. financial meltdown, both Obama and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, made comments about revamping NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Agreement. Initially the recent democratic nomination race comments were seen as a faux pas, as they came at Harper out of left field with no prior discussion. NAFTA is certainly the worst thing to happen to Canada on the economic and trade front. Who negotiated for it and signed it here in Canada? That would be Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (PC) and President George Bush Sr. (Rep), in 1992, a sure case of right meets right. But it survived successive Liberal and Democrat governments. Do we even want it re-negotiated? That remains to be seen and if we are friends, would we have been embroiled in the softwood lumber disputes? The whole Reagan-omics "trickle down" travesty began with Liberals in power here, but strongly influenced succeeding PC policy both federally and provincially (such as the Harris Common Sense Revolution).

What about President Reagan and the Canadian Liberals? On matters of defence, we had the cruise missile issue. The first cruise missile agreement for ten years was signed Feb. 1983 between Pierre Trudeau and Ronald Reagan. Then in 1993 Mulroney and Clinton renegotiated the new 10 year agreement, ( but negotiations had begun under under Geo Bush Sr - see Just Dummies: Cruise Missile Testing in Canada
By John Clearwater ).

On other current defense and foreign policy issues, Obama was on record as far back as the summer of 2007 for having a troop build up in Afghanistan and continued with the same message in the run-up to the election this summer past. This is certainly in line with minority leader Harper's plans, even though the majority of Canadians want to see a withdrawal from the Afghan War. It remains to be seen just how President elect Obama will approach the wars the U.S. has become mired in under Geo W. Bush's War on Terror. Here in Canada, it is not often clear how the Liberal - Democrat - Conservative - Republican relationships will play out. For the second Iraq War, our leaders were Jean Chretien (Lib) and Geo W. Bush (Rep). Chretien's decision not to participate in the Iraq war was popular with a majority of Canadians at the time and garnered sharp criticism from right wing Conservatives. Inexplicably, Chretien sent four times the number of troops to Afghanistan as recommended by the Canadian military staff, setting the stage for Harper's troop build-up and change in mission objectives from peace keeping to active offensive engagement.

There is the issue of Canadian Arctic sovereignty - when it arose back in the 80's (pre-global warming awareness), U.S. icebreakers were traversing the Canadian Arctic Northwest Passage without informing Canadian authorities. That lead to the Arctic Co-operation Agreement signed in 1988 by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The document states that the U.S. would refrain from sending icebreakers through the Northwest Passage without Canada's consent; in turn, Canada would always give consent. ( foreign submarine traffic including American and Russian, continues unmolested). However, the issue of whether the waters were international or Canadian was again left unresolved (if international rules are followed, the waters are all within Canadian coastal control). Harper has been criticized, primarily by NDP leader Jack Layton, as being soft on Arctic sovereignty, but Harper did announce some changes to Canadian oversight and increased military presence in the region recently. Now with the recognition of the true impact of global warming and the environmental sensitivity of the Arctic, we need to know where Obama stands. The only thing we know so far is that Obama is against Arctic drilling, but no specifics on the Northwest Passage as an important trade route. And important it is with the marked reduction of pack ice - The Northwest Passage, for the London - Tokyo trip is 7,000 kilometres shorter than the current shipping route through the Panama Canal and even 5,000 km less than the Suez Canal. Canada needs to take firm action to protect our Arctic territory.

Barack Obama has stated his intentions of revamping health care in the US, including a National Health Care Plan. Canada will no doubt be affected by any changes in the USA, as each country looks at the other's successes, failures and best practices. Harper has already shown disdain for universal health care in Canada and although Obama brings a fresh perspective, remember that the first US investigations were instituted by President Clinton who started the Task Force on National Health Care Reform in 1993 and appointed then First Lady Hillary Clinton. Obama may well call on her to play a similar role now.

The election of Barack Obama will certainly impact Canada and her people. This week Harper has already made overtures to Obama regarding a Canada - US Energy and Climate Change Pact. We must remember, however, that relations between the two countries can not be modelled along simple partisan or idealogical lines. Democrats are not Liberals and Republicans are not Conservatives. We also must be aware and sensitive to the fact that policies which may seem good to the US are not always good for Canada. Canadians are not high on the list of American priorities. After all, we're just neighbors.

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