Interview with Vue Weekly (Edmonton)

Canada After Bush: What is at stake?
Out of the Bush league: What will Obama mean for Canada?
Scott Harris /

January 20, 2009 will mark the end of the presidency of George W Bush, as Barack Obama is officially sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.

The shift from the Bush presidency to the Obama presidency will have incredible ramifications for not only the US, but for an uncertain world in the throes of an economic crisis, dominated by a limping and increasingly indebted superpower. Canada in particular, by virtue of our proximity-both physical and economic-to the US could see a profound shift in relations with our southern neighbour, as the right-left political relativity of our respective governments shift.

Discussing what this realignment might mean for Canada is the impetus behind an 18-city national tour currently underway by Steven Staples, the president of the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute, a public policy research and advocacy group which focuses on issues of human rights and security.

“Despite the fact that we’ve got another Conservative government-which most Canadians did not want-we are going to have a change in government in the United States and we need to be ready to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself to further Canada’s interests in terms of protecting the environment, promoting peace and creating a sustainable economy,” Staples says.

While he welcomes the end of “eight long years of waiting out George Bush,” Staples warns that a recent report by the Rideau Institute which analyzed both McCain and Obama’s policies found that “an Obama administration would be mixed news for Canada.”

“There will be lots of things to celebrate and there will be lots of things to look forward to,” he says, pointing out that having a US administration that is committed to real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could mean the Harper government will have no choice but to improve its own climate change policies.

“I think progressives and environmentalists will come together with some elements of Canadian business where there will be pressure on the government to come to some kind of understanding with the Americans on this,” he says. “Canadian companies will not want to have two sets of standards in North America; they’re going to want some predictability. So there will be pressure on the government to harmonize with the US model just by sheer size, and that would be a good thing, likely, for Canada because it would mean an improvement.”

At the same time, Staples says he has serious concerns about what Obama’s victory might mean for Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.
“Obama has made it very clear that he has been opposed to the invasion of Iraq, felt it was a distraction from a more proper mission which was to track down al-Qaeda and the Taliban, so he will withdraw US troops on a timeline from Iraq and transfer thousands of them to Afghanistan.”

That strategic shift would likely put significant pressure on Canada to backtrack on its pledge to have troops out of the country by the end of 2011.

“What we’ve been saying to folks is that we’ve already seen indications that Obama will be expecting greater contributions to Afghanistan from the allies. We’ve already lost 97 soldiers, a diplomat, two aid workers, by the end of the war it’ll be at least $20 billion we’ll have spent just in terms of government costs. But will Canadians be prepared to say no to Obama if he comes and says he needs more contributions to Afghanistan?”

At the same time, Staples warns that Canadians shouldn’t think that additional US troops will mean a sudden improvement for prospects in Afghanistan.

“We’re not trapped in a failing war in Afghanistan simply for the want of a few thousand more American troops-it’s really a problem of the strategy. We need to move to a diplomatic solution, a solution that’s not predicated on having thousands of more US troops just pursuing the same counterinsurgency mission that they’ve been doing up until now.”

Despite his cautions, Staples is optimistic about the potential in an Obama presidency, and even sees an opportunity in the historic economic turmoil to pursue a new direction in Canada.

“It just seems like anything is possible now, when you have governments bailing out the banks and nationalizing financial institutions and whatnot,” he says. “It just seems like we’re turning over a new page and it’s blank, it’s yet to be written. While posing danger there’s also great opportunity there as well.” V

Tue, Nov 11 (7:30 pm)
Canada After Bush: What is at stake?
Strathcona Community League Hall
(10139 – 87 Ave), Free

Tags: Steven Staples