Barack Obama is ultra popular in Canada, easily one of the most popular presidents in history. A recent Angus Reid poll found that 65 per cent of Canadian voters would vote for him, only 9 per cent for Republican Mitt Romney. Sixty per cent of Canadians think the Obama administration has been good for this country, only 13 per cent bad.
These are staggering numbers. By contrast, Obama predecessor president George W. Bush was reviled north of the border. In opinion surveys, he consistently ranked as low as a sea urchin.
So when an analysis gets published by two Canadian heavyweights titled How Obama Lost Canada, people can be forgiven for thinking how the nameplates got mixed up. The analysis, injecting a sour bilateral note at the time of the countries’ birthday celebrations, was written by Derek Burney, a former ambassador to the United States, and Carleton University academic Fen Hampson in the American periodical Foreign Affairs.
It has been roundly criticized by bilateral specialists on both sides of the border for lacking fairness and perspective and for being just plain obtuse.
What the record shows is that given America’s dire conditions of the past few years and given the political divides between the Ottawa and Washington governments, the relationship has been managed for the most part in a pragmatic, respectful and constructive fashion.
Following the ugliness of the Bush years, things could have gone off the rails. Mr. Burney and Mr. Hampson seem to have forgotten those years. Losing Canada? Do they recall how W. peevishly cancelled an Ottawa summit because Canada did not join his bogusly motivated invasion of Iraq? Do they recall his trying to bully Ottawa into joining his ballistic missile defence program? Do they remember the introduction of passports at the Canada-U.S. border or the Bush administration’s blatant abrogation of free-trade rules in the softwood lumber dispute? How about the economic havoc Mr. Bush’s policies abetted, his leaving even a one-word mention of Canada out of his landmark 9/11 address, his unilateralism in spurning a host of multilateral agreements that Canada was party to?
In succeeding him, Mr. Obama immediately struck a chord. Canadians liked his moderate values and fair-mindedness. They sensed that his heart and mind were in the right place and, despite many disappointments from him, they still do. He hasn’t been pushy or overbearing in his relations with Canada as have several presidents.
His popularity here has been such that it would have been foolish for Stephen Harper to clash with him. Mr. Harper has been shrewd enough to realize this and deserves credit for establishing, despite philosophical differences, a strong, working relationship. As well, ambassadors David Jacobson and Gary Doer have been adept at keeping temperatures from rising.
Mr. Burney, who is a board member of TransCanada Pipelines Ltd., and Mr. Hampson are particularly bitter over the Obama administration’s delay in a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. It was brought on, they grouse, by election-year political considerations. As if, historically, domestic political considerations have not been at the heart of countless bilateral decisions Ottawa has taken.
The authors complain that the Obama administration didn’t push for getting Canada a seat on the United Nations Security Council; this, without noting our Conservatives’ dismissive attitude toward the UN or how their right-wing unilateralism alienated so many of its members.
The authors even complain, without reference to Canada’s reputation as an international laughingstock on environmental policy, of Washington’s lack of co-operation on climate change. They exaggerate, forgetting other precedents, difficulties on bilateral trade with this administration and offer a decades-old Canadian lament about the President not doing enough to counter Buy American legislation.
They neglect to balance the ledger by citing the many occasions our Conservatives have acted against Mr. Obama’s interests, beginning with the infamous NAFTAgate leak that hurt his image during election primaries.
To be sure, there have been disappointments here under Mr. Obama, as there have been under virtually every president. But to suggest that he somehow lost Canada is to get history upside down. This President didn’t lose Canada. After Mr. Bush, he won it back.