Though I don’t put a lot of stock in these sorts of polls, the evidence is pretty undeniable that Canadians wanted John Kerry in White House rather than George W. Bush, and were equally solid in preferring Barack Obama over Mitt Romney or John McCain.
Presumably, the lopsided nature of this affection had much to do with Canada’s ostentatious self-identification with liberalism: our country has universal health care and tight gun laws and anything-goes abortion and so on, ergo the logical “Canadian” choice in American politics is whichever candidate comes closest to the Canadian mean.
From a realist foreign policy perspective, this logic makes absolutely no sense, however. Realism posits that we dirty foreigners are supposed to favor presidents who promise to give us things we want, not merely those whose domestic agenda — which we will never experience — gives us warm fuzzies.
Now the Pakistanis, they were good realists. In 2012 they favoured Mitt Romney because he was the candidate who hadn’t drone-bombed their country into a hellish moonscape, not because he shared their draconian religious views on gay marriage or whatever. The Soviets were good realists too; in 1980 they preferred a weak, dottering Democrat to a fierce and warmongery Republican, a flattering analysis the GOP has used as a national security talking point in every election since. In both cases, interests came before optics.
There was really only one Canadian “interest” involved in 2012. The Harper administration wants to build a continental pipeline (the “Keystone” project) to ship crude Albertan oil to refineries in Texas, but since said pipeline will have to snake through significant portions of American territory, the idea requires (get this) the assent of the US federal government.
Mitt Romney was hot on this plan. “Independence from foreign oil” has been a GOP cause célèbre for quite a while now, and Team Romney was the first to cleverly decide that Canada counts as a “domestic” source of petroleum. If the Canadians want our approval for this pipe, said the Governor, I’ll give it to them on day one.
It’s now day 10 of the second Obama term and no approval has been given. The current president had the ability to endorse Keystone several years ago, but back in 2011 cautiously put off making a decision in what was assumed to be a crass pander to the green vote in the lead-up to 2012. Blinded by Obama-love, the Canadian press repeatedly insisted that the delay was nothing to worry about, and that everyone could go on endorsing the Democratic ticket without feeling guilty. Wink wink, right Obama?
But now folks are starting to get desperate. The Premier of Saskatchewan, accompanied by several US governors, wrote an open letter to Obama last week asking him to get cracking already. The Premier of Alberta has been lobbying up a storm in Washington. Just give us a sign or something, Barack.
So he did, but it wasn’t a good one. In his powerfully progressive inaugural speech, President Obama gave a full-throated defence of the need to fight what he called “the threat of climate change.”
“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult,” he said, but “America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.”
A few days later, Canada’s favorite president America never had — now secretary of state designee — appeared stonefaced before the Senate foreign relations committee and announced he wasn’t going to share his opinions on Keystone either, but would give “appropriate judgments” to the President once the spring deadline arrives.
If approved, the Keystone project is expected to create a multitude of jobs in Canada and generate billions of dollars in trade — considerably more, in fact, than a proposed free trade deal with the entire European Union or an alternative pipeline to China. It also represents one of the only major economic initiatives this country has left to pursue.
Though the status is controversial, in recent years it’s become increasingly apparent that Canada is, at its core, a nation with little sustaining its national economy beyond the ongoing barter of its natural resources. The manufacturing sector is finished, the tech sector is struggling, the cultural sector is an over-subsidized mess, and the real estate sector is a bubble straining to burst. In such a context, the rapid expansion of the so-called tar sands of northern Alberta has occurred at precisely the right moment — so long as we can find new markets to sell the sludge, that is.
With no more elections left to lose, vetoing Keystone could be an easy way for President Obama to leave something of a green legacy, especially if he truly cares as much about moving America to a diet of sustainable energy — which Canadian oil decidedly is not — as he claims. Considering that it’s a decision to be made entirely without Congress, the temptation for an easy win for the progressive cause must be high indeed. Heaven knows there won’t be a lot of ‘em.
Keystone is not universally popular in Canada, of course, and doubtless many of the Canucks who oppose the pipeline’s construction were among the President’s most ferocious backers last November — and the November four years before.
It does not reflect well on Canada’s status as a rational, self-interested, sovereign country, however, that Canadians’ love for Obama never had much do with any specific promise he made to better the existence of Canada itself.
It will reflect even worse if the love continues after he promises to do the exact opposite.
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