Is Obama good for Canada?

With polls predicting an Obama victory, students debate his potential impact on Canada

Bennett Donahue, ArtSci ’08
Bennett Donahue, ArtSci ’08
Brandon Thao, ArtSci ’09
Brandon Thao, ArtSci ’09

Bennett Donahue, ArtSci ’08

If Canadians were allowed to vote for President of the United States of America on Tuesday, they would overwhelmingly elect Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Given the widespread “hype” surrounding the Democratic nominee for president, at times it is difficult to remember that we are not Americans. We would do well to ask ourselves how an Obama presidency would affect us as Canadians. Are we blindly supportive of a foreign candidate that might act against our interests?

There are areas where this could be the case, particularly with the uncertainty about an Obama administration’s actions on trade—a significant issue for Canadian interests and prosperity—where Republican Senator John McCain’s staunch support for free trade agreements could benefit us more.

Nonetheless, it is evident there are several areas in which an Obama victory would benefit Canadians, including international diplomacy, security and defence policy, issues of justice and civil liberties, immigration and international business policy, as well as certain American social and economic policies. However, there are at least two areas that I think have received insufficient discussion of late.

Over the past eight years, little real progress has been made in the attempt to combat global warming. The American government has repeatedly refused to support a number of critical environmental protection initiatives. While Mr. Obama’s environmental policies are not perfect, he would take greater steps than Mr. McCain to address this problem. In addition to the direct benefits to Canada of a “greener” United States, an Obama presidency would also deprive Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the ally against aggressive international initiatives that he had in President George W. Bush.

Like those of Al Smith, John F. Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama’s campaign is indeed historic and inspirational. His candidacy serves to challenge several of the lasting prejudices that have stained the history of a nation seeking greatness. And in Canada, where Mr. Obama’s campaign has been watched with a similar passion, this historical endeavour is of no less significance. While our history is significantly different from that of the United States, it is undeniably marked by similar prejudices, discrimination, hatred, intolerance, misunderstanding, fear and ignorance. And despite the desire of many Canadians to feel superior in comparison to our neighbours, these tendencies remain prevalent in Canada today. The nature of Mr. Obama’s candidacy in relation to our own flaws is one further reason why his election would benefit Canadians.

Although the election to the presidency of a liberal, intellectual, middle-class, African American man would neither solve nor erase the problems of prejudice and intolerance in the United States, it would nonetheless provide a powerful symbol—to America and to the world—of hope that both individuals and society can improve and move on from a troubled past. That we are all capable of change.

Brandon Thao, ArtSci ’09

A recent Globe and Mail poll asked Canadians “Which politician do you admire most?” listing several American figures. Twenty-six per cent of the respondents said Barack Obama while three per cent said McCain. So, when asked the question “which presidential candidate would be better for our country?” the answer seems self-evident. It’s clear that we’ve fallen for Obama and we’re ready to jump on the bandwagon. However, among the fanfare we must ask the question: is Obama really the best choice for Canada or are we thinking with our hearts and not our heads?

Over the summer, Obama released a controversial campaign strategy, promising to reassess the North American Free Trade Agreement. The aim of this reassessment is to negotiate new terms within NAFTA that will benefit American workers and create more stringent environmental guidelines.

Some may say that revisiting NAFTA isn’t such a bad idea. Since NAFTA’s inception in 1994, the hourly wage for work in Mexico has dropped, while thousands of American and Canadian labourers have lost their jobs. Throughout this process, many argue that only corporate interests were taken into account. Furthermore, NAFTA has effectively erased borders and now encourages the continued annexation of Canada into an American economy and culture.

While revisiting NAFTA may be beneficial to Canada, Obama’s pledge to recast it in American terms is troublesome. Obama has said that if terms are not re-negotiated in the interest of American labourers, he threatens a unilateral opt-out of NAFTA. While this plan remains speculative, if Obama was to opt out of NAFTA, much of Canada’s industry would suffer. In a simplistic analysis, the re-introduction of tariffs would increase the cost of goods from the United States, resulting in inflated prices. While there are numerous factors to consider, including economic and cultural protectionism, seeing that the United States is Canada’s biggest trade partner, we must closely examine Obama’s approach.

In addition, this unilateral opt-out is likely to put tension on the relationship between Canada and the United States. As America’s largest source of energy (oil, natural gas and hydro-electric power) Canada may impose heavy tariffs in response to the slight. This is a reality since Harper has expressed willingness to play the “energy card” if tested by the States.

Clearly Obama is a candidate who speaks to a huge group of people and represents the spirit of change.

However, how far does his policy of change extend and what does this mean to Canada? And would Obama be a president that works harmoniously with Canada?

This is not a condemnation of the presidential candidate, rather an invitation to look harder at issues and critically assess what politicians have in mind. While it’s clear that Canadians strongly support Obama and extend our hearts to his cause, we can’t forget that politics is a head game and without thinking, we’re shooting in the dark.

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