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The best and the worst Canadian coverage – Obama’s inauguration and its implications for Canada

January 21, 2009

Media concentration at its finest: Five stories by Mike Blanchfield with five different titles in five different papers — Canada’s prepares to partner with Obama; Canada ready to deepen relationship with US; Canada eager for fresh alliance; ‘Ready to lead’ reassures Canada; Canada welcomes future with ‘land of our partners’; — all of which follow a very simple formula for Obama coverage in Canada:

  1. Proclaim end of anti-Americanism
  2. + Quote former ambassadors (preferably Paul Heinbecker)
  3. + Quote academics (preferably from Norman Paterson school)
  4. + Mention our own Haitian-born GG
  5. – Any reporting on the very different policies and approaches of Obama and Harper administrations
  6. = Canada is prepared, ready, eager and welcoming!

Another duplicate in the Canwest papers, but this time including some commentary: Don Martin in both the National Post and the Calgary Herald with Canada needs Obama success and Obama presidency crucial for Canada. Martin’s main point (it’s clear from both titles) is that Canada needs Obama’s plans to succeed — “Until Americans vote confidence in their economy, our recovery cannot begin” — and will be happy to have a less confrontational partner down south.

Ironically, it may be easier for Mr. Harper to work with this President than the last one. The need to keep a bargepole distance in his relationship with George Bush for domestic optics made it difficult to establish deep bonds with the last White House. That obstacle doesn’t exist with Mr. Obama.

Jeffrey Simpson sees more than “domestic optics” preventing deep bonds with the White House.  In Now the hard part: waiting for US hints he points out that the Harper administration seems to have been in a holding pattern — waiting for Obama’s decisions on a climate change plan, auto bailout package and economic stimulus — with very little to offer Obama in terms of insight or progress on international challenges.

Sure, Mr. Obama is preoccupied with domestic issues; and, yes, Canada is his country’s largest trading partner and a big supplier of energy. Neither of those essentials will change.

But he’s also preoccupied with the Middle East, Iran, China, climate change, developments in Cuba, nuclear proliferation, Pakistan. Do we have anything to offer him, let alone say to his administration, on any of these and other major international issues? If so, it’s hard to imagine what. If not, Canada will fast develop a reputation in his administration as the guest always placed at the far end of the table.

Simpson predicts Harper and Cannon will simply “prepare a list of bilateral economic issues” for Obama’s visit, “in keeping with the deeply parochial nature of the Harper government”.

If Harper is indeed preparing such a list, he need look no further than the Globe’s other article on Obama’s inauguration — What he means for us — by Michael Kergin and Allan Gottlieb. On Gottlieb and Kergin’s list: limits on auto emissions, restrictions on auto-sector remuneration, exclusionary product and food-safety regulations, punitive measures against perceived Canadian subsidies, and the border. Not the major world-shaping events of our time, but probably important for a huge percentage of us. Gottlieb and Kergin are optimistic that we will be granted the economic favours we seek – after all “the reality is that no country is more important to the United States than Canada.” This is something I really wish political commentators could convene a summit and agree on – from the US’s perspective, are we important or insignificant? I’d like to know.

In sum –  “Yes we can!” translated into Canadian English becomes “Maybe we will, as long as we can still develop the tar sands.” Whoo!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. reneethewriter permalink
    January 22, 2009 11:31 am

    A great post – very much enjoyed that you wrote out “the formula” as well as the extended clips from other columnists across Canada – thanks, R.


  1. Canada Needs Some of that Obama Magic « Canada’s World

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