THIS WORLD of OURS – April 2009


By Bob Harwood

Sharing A Continent


President Obama’s first state visit on February 19th, was to America’s northern neighbor and most significant trading partner. He and Prime Minister Stephen Harper discussed key issues and started building a relationship. He also met with the leader of the Official Opposition, the Prime Minister in waiting should Harper’s minority government fall.

Chemistry. The chemistry of his visit exceeded all expectations. America’s first black president was greeted on landing by Michaelle Jean, Canada’s erudite first black Governor General. Canadians adore Obama. He in turn said “I love Canada” as he referenced family members there. Obama, with a strong mandate for change after the Bush years was meeting with Canada’s most ideologically conservative Prime Minister ever. But their personal session went well as they shared concerns and compared notes of a more personal nature.

Before departure Obama also met with Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff, an historian and award winning author who has held academic positions at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. From his long Harvard tenure he has strong personal relationships with many of Obama’s closest advisors. What exquisite book ends for Obama’s visit, from first black welcomes first black through to Harvard elite bids Harvard elite adieu—for now.

The Economy. Canada and America share a larger bilateral flow of goods, services, people and capital than any other two countries. Their economies are intricately interwoven, not just at the raw materials and finished goods levels but every step of the way as parts and sub assemblies flow back and forth across the world’s longest undefended border. Protectionism in the guise of Buy America would not only be disastrous for both but would likely trigger a broader trade war that would only deepen and prolong the global recession. Obama reiterated that NAFTA and WTO commitments would be honored. Border concerns interact with trade. Security concerns must not become a major hindrance to trade and travel. Harper noted that a terrorist threat to one is a threat to both.

Canada’s appropriately regulated banking system has been uniquely untouched in the global banking crisis. Employers are not burdened by health care costs long since relegated to the public sector under Canada’s universal health care system. In these areas big brother might even glean some insights from little brother down the road. But, with a growing cry for an international regulatory system for banking, Obama’s greatest challenge may be confronting American constituencies wed to a libertarian / uni-lateralist ethos.

Energy. Canada is America’s number one supplier of oil and a major supplier of electricity, the latter primarily from environmentally clean hydro and nuclear energy sources. But Canada’s oil is increasingly from Alberta oil sands. Obama referred to the “heavy carbon footprint” of these oil sands but also to America as the “Saudi Arabia of coal” Obama’s strategy envisages a cap and trade system with firm caps on all emissions as opposed to Harper’s focus on major emitters and intensity targets related to volume. Developing a continental strategy that does not have major trade ramifications will be a challenge.

Beyond that both countries must join the rest of the First World and do their part as a precondition to engaging emerging economies in an always planned equitable Post Kyoto role to address the looming threat of climate change. We are the problem. Europe’s per capita emissions are less than half those of Canada or America and falling while those of China and India are the merest fraction of even Europe’s at this early stage of their economic development.

International Affairs. America is seeking allies as it shifts focus from Iraq to Afghanistan where Canada continues to make a disproportionate sacrifice but is committed to troop withdrawal by 2011. Non military participation by Canada in development and reconstruction could provide a politically palatable solution for all concerned. Harper’s echoing of Bush’s antagonistic uni-lateralism on many other files must be replaced by multilateral engagement without preconditions. China must be respectfully engaged, not hectored. An America resisting nuclear disarmament is poorly positioned to lecture Iran on its nuclear program while giving unwavering support to Israel, the region’s other nuclear power.

I am appalled that America and Canada threaten to boycott a major UN Conference on Racism simply because some of its wide ranging documentation includes critique of specific Israeli policies. With extremist factions in both Israel and Palestine rejecting the two state scenario envisioned by Balfour in his 1917 Declaration and reiterated by FDR in 1933 it may yet take official UN intervention to find an evenhanded, fair-to-all, two state solution to the six decade old conflict. This unresolved conflict is the primary cause of the Islamic world’s angst against the West. I remain nervous on this file but hope that Obama’s advent will herald a new era of respectful engagement by America on the world stage on a broad range of issues—and that Canada, Harper or not, will follow in Obama’s wake.

Ojo Del Lago
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