What the Canadian election means to Barack Obama if he wins
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Wed, 10/15/2008 – 10:04am
You probably didn’t watch C-SPAN’s coverage of the CBC from Canada in its coverage of the Canadian federal elections. And even if you did, you might wonder how last night’s results affect the U.S. and our presidential race.
Stephen Harper was elected to another minority government in Canada last night. It’s a stronger minority government, 143 seats of a possible 308. After the last election, Harper had 126 seats.
The Liberals, who have been in the charge for most of the last 45 years, now have 77 seats, a whopping 26 seats down from the last election. THis is the fewest seats the Liberals have had since 1984.
The key issues between the two countries are oil, immigration, trade, border crossings, Afghanistan, and for a lack of a better word, terrorism. Canada is the U.S.’ largest trading partner and the U.S. gets more oil from Canada than any other country, including Saudi Arabia.
In the last 45 years, there have often been polar opposites in charge of the two countries: Ronald Reagan and Pierre Trudeau, Bill Clinton and Brian Mulroney, George W. Bush and Jean Chrétien.
So the prospects of Barack Obama and Stephen Harper getting along are entirely possible. But there was hope on a number of fronts that the Liberals could run a better race, but Stéphane Dion ran a terrible race, and likely won’t be back as the opposition leader.
If the Liberals had won, there was hope that talks on border crossings, trade, and “terrorism” would go smoother and more commonality would be found.
Harper had, as CBC’s Rex Murphy said last night, the perfect storm last night: weak Liberal leader, an improved Green Party, and improved New Democratic Party. And he still couldn’t get a majority.
But Harper will try and run the government like a majority. For what it’s worth, Harper had been able to run a minority government for the last two years with fewer seats. And now he has more power.
The implications of Harper not having a like-minded person in the White House are unknown. Harper, having been ignored by Bush, has tried to come up with policies, especially on “terrorism,” to try and please Bush. And Bush has pretty much ignored him.
Bush wasn’t really paying much attention to Canada even before 9/11 and the Iraq War. Then-PM Jean Chrétien sent troops to Afghanistan, but not to Iraq. If you think that snub is petty, think of John McCain and Spain. Even if you don’t believe his handlers that McCain knew what he was saying to the reporter, the McCain campaign believes Spain should be punished for not keeping troops in Iraq. And yes, Spain has troops in Afghanistan.
If Obama wins in November, he needs to be pro-active with Harper right away. Harper will have the upper hand, but Obama needs to be direct on what we need and want, while also understanding where Canada is coming from.
McCain has been on Canadian soil in 2008, and Obama’s Canadian connection was the talk about reopening NAFTA. Obama definitely would need to schedule a trip very soon after taking office.
Obama can also expect some animosity. Traditionally, Canadian prime ministers don’t like to be seen as being too chummy with U.S. presidents. That didn’t bother Harper with Bush, but with Obama, Harper will likely develop a different tone. And Obama needs to be ready.
Obama also needs to be welcoming on trade issues, and perhaps offering a few concessions (think softwood lumber). And Obama needs to be clear with Harper that trade needs to flow easier between the two countries. Border crossings have a lot to do with trade, since trucks bring lots of products back and forth.
All of this would have been much easier with Obama and Dion (or anybody but Harper). But it can be done: Harper wants attention from a U.S. president, and Obama wants to work well with Canada.