Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Mr. Obama Goes to Ottawa

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But do people really care?

Well, north of the border, it’s very big news that Obama is traveling to Ottawa. Beyond his exciting Rock Star status, Obama revived the presidential tradition of making Canada the first overseas trip, following the footsteps of four of the last nine presidents.

You couldn’t tell that though by hanging out at White House briefings, talking with other foreign affairs reporters, or about any of the anticipatory prep and advance work for this visit. The Ottawa trip is very ho-hum.

And why should anyone in the U.S. really care about Obama going to Ottawa—Canada’s Washington, DC—to meet with Conservative party Prime Minister Stephen Harper (no relation to yours truly) and Liberal party opposition leader Michael Ignatieff? Obama is scheduled to be there for a mere five to six hours.

Some press reports characterized this stop as a “training wheels trip” – a kind of “practice run” for future pow-wows abroad. It’s way too cold anyhow and the accents can be rather off putting.

So why is it a big deal?

For one, Canada is a major trading partner with the U.S., almost $600 billion annually between the countries. That’s the largest two-way trade relationship in the world. Canada and the U.S. do more trade with one another than the U.S. does with all the countries of the European Union!

Here’s another fun fact that most Americans do not know: Canada is our TOP foreign supplier for natural gas and petroleum oil. By a long shot. Yes, even more than the Persian Gulf countries combined in 2007.

Second, Canada is carrying a heavy, heavy load in Afghanistan, fighting in southern Afghanistan, a haven for the Taliban and al Qaida. The 2,700-strong force is expected to complete its mission in 2011, after more than 100 Canadians died there so far.

Our economies are very much intertwined, with more trade flowing across the bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario than trade between the U.S. and Japan, says Jason Meyers, president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Group.

What happens this week—with Obama signing the nearly $800 billion stimulus package and the restructuring plans for GM and Crysler—will have a direct impact on Canada’s economy. This will then will cycle back around to impact the U.S. in the near future.

Likewise, when Canada votes on Prime Minister Harper’s two-year, $40 billion stimulus plan—will we know about it here? We may not learn about it on the front pages, but we’ll feel the consequences of their fiscal actions.

And what will be the reaction to the “Buy American” provision? The very inter-connectedness of our economies, cultures and national security interests brings into question what it means to be “American.”

But, even just on the basic fundamentals, yes, we should care about what goes on with our northern neighbor. Cold noses and silly accents aside.

*Liz Harper is an americasquarterly.org contributing blogger based in Washington DC. To reach a blogger, send an email to: aqinfo@as-coa.org


Liz Harper is a contributing blogger to AQ Online based in Washington DC.

Tags: Canada, Free Trade, Obama
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