Obama’s first year through a Canadian lens

In a recent lecture titled “Great Expectations Unfulfilled,” Canada West Foundation CEO Rodger Gibbons analyzed U.S. President Barack Obama’s affect on Canada during his first year in office. Gibbons addressed Obama’s relatively modest impact on the Canadian political landscape. He also spoke of responses to the recession, climate change, the oil-sands and Afghanistan.

“Obama is much more popular in Canada than he is in the U.S., and I thought this popularity would lead in turn to considerable influence on Canadian political life,” said Gibbons.

Gibbons thought Obama’s popularity and charisma would provide a “new gold standard” for leadership and that Canadian leaders would fall short in comparison. He expected that federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff would capitalize on insider connections with the Obama team through Harvard, and that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper wouldn’t be seen as in the same class as the popular American president.

“Try to imagine Harper shooting a few hoops with Obama,” he said.

So far, according to Gibbons, the opposite has occurred.

“Ignatieff, for whatever reason, has failed to build on his assumed closeness with the Obama administration; Harper has occupied the space that I expected Ignatieff to claim.”

Harper has stood up relatively well in comparisons with Obama over the last year. He has met with Obama on multiple occasions and is seen as close to the American president.

On the recession, Gibbons remarked that most of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries have reacted the same way, so to call Canada’s stimulus package a copy of the American version is incorrect. Gibbons did say that Obama will likely provide political cover for Harper when asked about the debt run up by the Conservative government.

“As big as that debt is, it will seem tiny in comparison with the U.S. debt, which is truly massive.”

Regarding climate change, Gibbons expected that Canada will likely follow Obama’s lead. The current evidence is that Obama has largely passed the file over to congress and its outcome is unclear.

Gibbons said the upcoming Copenhagen climate change conference is likely to be adjourned.

“I fear quick action rather than slow action by the States on climate change.”

There is concern the American congress will make poor decisions in light of the recession. As well, uncertainty on China and India’s intentions at Copenhagen could be an excuse for inaction.

Gibbons said America’s stance on the Alberta oil sands is uncertain. He did say that American concerns about energy security will ultimately direct what Americans do.

The American course of action in Afghanistan is, again, uncertain. Gibbons expects that Obama will probably increase military involvement in the country.

He remarked that Harper has surprisingly emerged as a peacenik on the Afghanistan file, which is strange in light of Obama’s recent Nobel Peace Prize win.

“None of what I’ve said today is meant to be critical of President Obama,” said Gibbons.

“I’ve approached him as a huge stone cast into the pond of American political life, and I expected some of the waves from that splash to wash ashore in Canada. However, by the time the waves reach Canada, they seem to lose much of their force.”

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