Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

A Canadian View of Barack Obama

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As was the case with many countries outside of the United States, Canada had its share of Obama fever back in 2008. His candidacy was arguably seen as transformative, if only by being the first African-American candidate in a serious position to win the presidency. To be fair, the 2008 Democratic primary season also had all the makings of another rendezvous with history: the possibility of the first woman, Hillary Clinton, to capture the U.S. presidency. When Obama ultimately triumphed, Canadians seemed as excited as our neighbors to the south and hope was as much in the air in Canada as in the U.S.

Unlike some of our American friends who may have since soured on President Obama, Canadians generally retain a positive view of the President. It is not an exaggeration to say that his re-election for a second term would be seen very favorably. In fact, the general consensus after the rather disappointing Republican primary season is that Obama will walk away with an easy victory. It seems that many in Canada confuse their wishes with reality on the ground as Americans are bracing for a hard fought election.

The reality is that the United States remains fundamentally a 50-50 nation, with independents holding the key to the final results. The sluggish recovery in the U.S. (20 percent of lost jobs have been recovered) is contrasted by a far more robust recovery in Canada (over 100 percent). While our optimism is somewhat guarded regarding the economy, it is clear we did not have a housing crisis and a financial meltdown of the magnitude of America. Our single payer healthcare system, while under some financial strain, remains very much a major tenet of our social and economic security. Our growth outlook is generally considered good compared to our fellow OECD countries. So we tend to extrapolate our comparative good fortune with that of President Obama’s attractiveness and ask: Why would America change leaders now? The fact is that the economic picture will be a decisive factor in the November election.

Yes, many in Canada want Obama to succeed. We acknowledge our cultural, economic, and political differences, but we generally view America with respect and admiration. Most of all, we regard the United States as our major strategic ally and our number-one commercial partner. Over the years, leaders of Canada and the United States have found that we have more in common to unite us than divide us—and it is in the interests of both countries to share common goals and find ways to settle grievances.

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government were very disappointed with the Obama administration’s decision to stall the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline until early 2013, the displeasure barely caused a ripple across our country other than the understandable concerns from Alberta, the provincial home of Canada’s oil sands. In reality, Canadian interests with the U.S. go way beyond fossil fuels despite the fact we are the biggest exporter of oil and gas to America. We want to travel across each other’s borders easier, share greater prosperity and enjoy each other’s amenities.

So as the United States prepares for the final electoral sprint between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Canadians will watch carefully. They may even concede that some Republican policies are more favorable to Canadian commercial interests.  But they will also avoid getting too excited about the prospects on November 6.  Ultimately, they will respect America’s choice and acknowledge the wisdom of the U.S. electorate. But, deep down, many Canadians feel that President Obama remains a very positive force in the world.

John Parisella is a guest blogger to AQ Online. He is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently an invited professor at University of Montréal’s International Relations Center.


John Parisella is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently a visiting professor at the University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. He is also a Member of the Board of Directors of The Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

Tags: Alberta, Barack Obama, Canada, Keystone XL, Mitt Romney, Stephen Harper
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