Sunday, January 18, 2009

 

MR. OBAMA GOES TO OTTAWA

I may be getting ahead of myself here. After all, President Obama will not be taking office until Tuesday. I have noticed however that U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins is all packed-up and good to go.

Ambassador Wilkins has always said he would leave Ottawa for his South Carolina home on the same day his good friend, George W. Bush, stepped-down. He is being true to his word, doubtless looking forward to the mercy of the deep south's short winters.

Canadians are gratified that the new American President, in a nod to tradition, will be making Ottawa his first official international visit. It will be a chance for the new guy to exchange ideas with Stephen Harper. Appearances would seem to suggest the two men have very little in common other than being from the same chronological generation with young children at home. Lest I digress...some wags might suggest that they are in fact generations apart in philosophy, outlook and politics.

I grasp here at the notion and the assumption that the Liberals will somehow abandon their coalition mantra and allow the Conservatives to survive the budget vote which will occur before Obama travels to the "great white north." Thus it is Mr. Harper who will meet Obama bringing a number of issues to the table for discussion. As was noted this weekend on CTV's "Question Period" ,Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon believes the agenda items are likely to include the auto industry bailout, American protectionism, and matters of concern over our mutual border. Although the rift over the NAFTA-Gate disaccord for which Harper's office was blamed a year ago has surely healed; President Obama will be aware that early on, some in Canada nearly shafted his candidacy by revealing intimate discussions his emissaries had been having in Chicago. He may be somewhat guarded over revealing too much about his vision for the future.

There are more contentious matters which Minister Cannon glossed over in his CTV musings. To wit the War in Afghanistan and the status of the only westerner still held at Guantanamo Bay; Canadian Omar Khadr. The Prime Minister maintained throughout last falls election campaign that Canada remains committed to leaving the Afghan theatre in exactly two years. President Obama though has a different view over the prosecution of that war, one which may involve extracting a commitment from Canada beyond those of February, 2011. As for the young Mr. Khadr. The sun is thankfully setting on the notorious American prison in Cuba. While Mr. Harper has so far refused to deal with repatriating Omar Khadr; the prisoner may very well be dumped across our border to deal with, sooner than the PM would like.

Which brings me back to where I started. Obama's choice of Ambassador to Canada will be all telling of his intentions with respect to our historic relationship. If he is looking: Besides adding some "whump" to drab Ottawa...I think that Bill Clinton would be an enlightened, masterful, inspired, ingenious choice.

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