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A third force in Canuck politics

It is heartening to learn that Barack Obama plans to make his first foreign trip as U.S. president to Canada.

It is heartening to learn that Barack Obama plans to make his first foreign trip as U.S. president to Canada.

It is something of a tradition for a new president to visit Canada before he visits anywhere else.

It is an expression of respect for America’s oldest friend and largest trading partner.

In 2001, the newly-elected George W. Bush went to Mexico first. It was considered a snub in Ottawa, an inauspicious beginning to a prickly relationship between Bush and Jean Chrétien.

Our amour propre was wounded, again, when Bush addressed Congress after 9/11.

Acknowledging the many countries that had helped the United States, he ignored Canada. Not terribly gracious, we thought.

Two years later, Canada refused to go to war in Iraq and conveyed its decision badly to Washington. An angry president cancelled a visit to Ottawa that spring. Said he was too busy.

George W. Bush knew or cared little about Canada. As a southwestern, conservative, religious Republican, he was remote from this country, geographically, ideologically and temperamentally.

When Iraq soured, Bush became an emblem of antipathy in Canada. It stoked an unbecoming anti-Americanism here.

That’s gone now. Like almost everywhere else in the world, Barack Obama is a darling in Canada. Looking at him and the hope he’s generated — Canadians are disappointed with their fractious politics.

Behold, American envy. It is now the United States, not Canada, which is new and daring.

While we grudgingly elect a dour, flinty economist, Americans embrace a conciliatory, inspiring supernova.

This is difficult for Canadians, who have long thought that they are more liberal, that they’re more tolerant of visible minorities, that America is a melting pot of conformity. No longer.

Indeed, so great is Barack Obama’s appeal that he could become a third force in our politics.

He’s more popular than Harper here, and that gives him credibility.

The president’s influence, should he use it, may be greatest in climate change; Obama is expected to urge Canada to adopt higher continental standards on carbon emissions. This is a problem for Harper, who has supported the tarsands in Alberta, a huge source of pollution.

Then there is Afghanistan, where the Americans are increasing their military commitment.

They will probably ask us to stay longer than 2011, when our troops are to leave.

As the president prepares to come to Ottawa, Harper will learn there is another leader of the opposition. His name is Barack Obama.

 
 
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