Democracy Soup

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Obama in Canada: a little talk, a lot of charm

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Originally published on on Fri, 02/20/2009 – 11:38am

Wasn’t that a beautiful sight yesterday? Imagine a U.S. president traveling outside this country and being greeted with crowds that are happy to see him. Positive signs that read “Yes we Can-ada.” People who got on buses from distant cities just to see him.

You can imagine that any president after George W. Bush would get a seemingly positive reaction. But Obama is a game-changer to many Canadians.

If my anecdotal evidence from last September in Toronto is any indication, Canadians on the whole are thrilled that Barack Obama is the U.S. president.

There were serious moments in Obama’s day trip to the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Afghanistan, oil in tar sands, environmental issues from those tar sands, trade, how border security is impeding trade, NAFTA, the auto industry, et al. More issues than could be settled in a 7-hour period.

Unlike the tone set by the previous U.S. president, the fact that the U.S. and Canada are going in two different directions on Afghanistan wasn’t met with disdain. PM Harper has said Canada will withdraw its 2,500 troops from southern Afghanistan in 2011. The Liberal Party wants more NATO troops for reinforcement to keep the troops there that long. Obama wants to increase the number of U.S. troops in that country.

On trade, Obama said, “I’ve provided Prime Minister Harper with an assurance that I want to grow trade and not contract it.” But Obama notes that NAFTA does too little to protect U.S. workers and the environment.

Obama spoke in favor of coordinating auto-industry bailouts, and Obama and Harper announced the launch of a “Clean Energy Dialogue.”

The U.S. President also met with Canada’s opposition leader, Liberal Party Michael Ignatieff, for about 30 minutes. Depending on how Canada’s political situation goes. Ignatieff could be Canada’s leader if there was another federal election.

Besides all the serious talk, there was an effort by Obama to show Canadians he understood the special relationship between the two countries, and that he wanted a better relationship between the two countries. He actually spoke French in the news conference, a nod to the bilingual status of Canada.

Obama talked about his personal relationship with the country: he mentioned in the press conference with Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he has a Canadian brother-in-law and two key staff people who hail from Canada. In that same sentence, Obama said, “I love this country and I think that we could not have a better friend and ally.”

He even thanked those Canadians that crossed the border to help campaign for him in the presidential election.

Obama also stepped up the charm by saying he wanted to come back when it was warmer, and stopped by to get a “beaver tail,” a pastry that is a variation of a bear claw. These were decorated with an O of chocolate and maple syrup for Obama.

Much of the serious stuff will come later in longer, more extensive visits between the two leaders. Yesterday was a chance to get foreign policy started on the right foot. Not every stop will go as smoothly as yesterday in Ottawa, but the foreign policy is already off to a better start than the last guy.

Transcript of the Obama-Harper press conference

picture of Obama in an Ottawa bakery

Written by democracysoup

February 20, 2009 at 11:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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