In the Canadian vacuum, Obama victory pushes Harper to act
By former Canada’s World blogger Alexander Nataros
There were many reasons for Canadians to support Barack Obama’s historic campaign.
That the US– despite its economic crisis, unfathomable debt and prolonged wars– will strengthen their leadership in the world, is certainly up there. In a world where the competing alternative is China’s “business first” approach to human rights, this is a fundamentally good thing.
But the new administration will push Canadian politics and the Harper government to act on issues it has stalled on. With an uninspired and leaderless Liberal party that must learn from the Obama phenomenon and a NDP that refuses to embrace its role as the activist (witness Jack “I’m running for Prime Minister” Layton), we now enter an unparalleled period where the Conservatives find themselves across the line from a powerful Democratic house.
The Harper government, bound to its smallmindedness, has been unwilling or perhaps unable to inspire a vision for our country. Cutting– be it the GST, the Kelowna Accord, Childcare agreements, or green programs– has been the extent of it. Dion’s Liberals had their Green Shift, but were wholly ineffective (much as BC Premier Gordon Campbell has been in pushing through his shift) in communicating and adapting the policy. It remained just that, an uninspiring document written off as a carbon tax.
Barack Obama has vision in spades and it will smoothly fill the Canadian vacuum– he makes such uninspiring documents dance. Vision and a spirit of cooperation fosters post-partisanship; witness the embrace of Obama by many Republicans. Our Prime Minister and President Bush both have failed to embody this notion. Overnight many of those who’ve decried the movement of Canada towards North American annexation now yearn to call Obama their leader. Finally someone able to step beyond the partisan blinds and engage citizens.
Immediately we see the Canadian government trying to jockey itself into the position of ‘leader’ on climate change and the oilsands. The appointment of Jim Prentice– considered one of Harper’s strongest ministers– to the Environment portfolio was a mere anticipation of a dramatic US shift in policy. The vacuous megaphone of John Baird won’t suffice.
And on issues beyond the oilsands where Canada has been castigated, such as our opposition to banning the export of asbestos (we produce lots of it in Quebec!) or deep sea trawling, and our lacklustre willingness to ban cluster bombs, let’s hope that we’ll be pushed to act.
On Afghanistan, we will be challenged by the US to step up and stay beyond 2011. Let’s hope that, in the face of increased US forces and a renewed approach to rebuild Afghan civil society, Canadian politicians undertake an honest dialogue about our commitment.
At its best, Canada has led to ban landmines globally, solve a transcontinental acid-rain crisis and foster peacekeeping in the world. Until we regain our own leadership, Canada will be pushed and led internationally by President Obama.
Taking back our leadership starts, much as the Obama phenomenon did, with grassroots engagement here in Canada. We must see our environmental and social justice work as being complimentary to debating the policies and leaders that our political parties choose. The American democratic process finished on Tuesday, but the countless primaries and caucuses that drew millions of its citizens into debate were fundamental to the final product.