I read an interesting post on Twitter today by Kirk LaPointe (@kirklapointe), managing editor for the Vancouver Sun and Adjunct Professor at the UBC School of Journalism, regarding Barack Obama’s visit to Canada later this week:
When Obama visits Cda on frist[sic] intl trek, no speeches, six hours, see ya. We’re the foreign policy equivalent of an O’Hare layover.
Despite what Canadians might feel about Obama choosing Canada as his first country to visit as the newly minted US president, with more details emerging regarding his trip to our country, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that this is more a dress rehearsal than a legitimate start to his foreign affairs platform. Indeed, many news reports have the Obama team admitting that Canada was chosen because of the easier logistics of arranging a trip to Ottawa than say Brussels or Paris. Also, notice how there’s been little if any attention in Washington in regards to Obama’s impending trip to the Great White North. Robert Gibbs, Obama’s Press Secretary, only bothered mentioning this visit at the end of his daily briefing on January 28th with this rather perfunctory remark –
Lastly, as you all know, the president intends to make his first foreign trip as president to Canada. He will make that trip on Feb. 19. Canada is a vitally important ally, and the president looks forward to the opportunity to speak with Prime Minister Harper and visit our neighbour to the north. So please add that to your appropriate planning schedules.
“Lastly”? Wow, guess we should at least be relieved he got the name of our Prime Minister right (Jean Poutine, anyone?). Of course, to be fair, I can’t blame Washington or the rest of the United States for not giving this visit much thought. After all, Obama is only visiting Canada for six hours. As LaPointe astutely remarked above, it’s no more remarkable than a flight layover or even the daily commute through traffic.
And yet, here’s the irony in all this – Obama is attempting to spin-doctor this visit as proof that his administration wants to listen to other countries before he makes any plans. But how can any of us take such notions seriously when he’s only allocating six hours to discuss issues that are of high importance to the United States’ biggest trading partner? Can we really expect Harper and Obama to make any grounds regarding the “Buy American” clause featured in Obama’s much hyped stimulus package? Or what about the Alberta oil sands project and Obama’s insistence on moving toward cleaner fuel sources? Let’s not also forget the case of Omar Khadr, the only Western civilian being kept at Guantanamo, in light of Obama’s plea to countries like Canada to take in some of the other Guantanamo prisoners his country has been holding illegally for years. Then there are the issues of Arctic sovereignty, Canada’s role in the war in Afghanistan, . . . I could go on but I think you get the point. Americans have continually remained ignorant of the realities and issues facing Canada and Obama’s decision to allocate essentially one afternoon to this country and our shared issues indicates that this attitude is unlikely to change under the Obama administration.
The reality Canadians need to recognize is that Obama is not coming to Canada because he favours his relationship with us, but simply because this is a means for him to allow his team to learn the ropes regarding the logistics of planning and organizing presidential trips abroad. The fact that there won’t be any significant developments arising from this meeting will be very indicative that this is more a PR move on the part of the Obama administration than an honest gesture to address the concerns Canadians have regarding these issues.
Given how Obama won’t even take the time to acknowledge Canadians who will no doubt be lining the roads of Ottawa in hopes of catching a glimpse of the charismatic leader is all the proof we need to realize that this isn’t about respecting the relationship between Canada and the US as it is a shakedown cruise for Obama and his team to test out how to showcase him on the world stage. While some might appreciate his desire to drop the pomp and circumstance in favour of getting to work, I’ll be curious to see if that ‘all-business’ attitude still holds up when he visits other world leaders. Somehow I suspect it won’t, not that I mind the savings of Canadian taxpayers’ funds for more pressing needs like our health care and education systems.
Americans of course are welcome to rally around Obama; he is after all their president. However, Canadians are in need of a wake-up call to realize that what Obama does might be good for America, but that doesn’t mean it will be good for Canada as well.