Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Canadians’ View of Obama’s Inaugural Speech

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As Canadians, we tend to watch the Inaugural activities with interest. Sometimes, as in 1961 or in 2009, we marvel at the significance and the majesty of the event. Many times, we are indifferent and see it merely as a news story in the heart of winter every four years.

We do not pretend to understand the subtleties of the words of a U.S. President, but we cannot deny their scope in terms of the years to come. John F. Kennedy asked his fellow citizens to become engaged: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” This time around, Barack Obama said that “America was made for this moment.” He outlined the vision of the Founding Fathers, and laid out a progressive vision of where America must go, which he linked with the basic values of the U.S. constitution.

Many on this side of the border are familiar with the call for an activist government, and an effort to reduce inequalities in society. Much of our social fabric is based on this approach. What was attractive in the speech had to do with the JFK-like call for greater citizen engagement on issues like gun control , and the presentation of a vision of a changing country largely defined by new demographics. It was clear Obama understood his victory coalition, and addressed its inherent and emerging values and hopes. Republicans, take note! Obama2.0 seems more determined to press his agenda this time around.

Others in Canada, being more practical and short term in assessment, spoke of Obama’s rekindled interest in climate change, and whether this spelled a doomsday scenario for the Keystone project pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. The selection of John Kerry as secretary of state and his sensitivity to climate change issues raises some legitimate concerns. Clearly, with emerging energy options that point to greater energy independence for the U.S., Obama’s reference to leading the climate change revolution made an impact with some Canadian authorities. We shall soon see whether Canada’s energy exports hopes will suffer a severe setback.

Since Canada is usually depicted as a progressive—based nation, open to government activism in the course of its history, it is certain that Obama’s words were highly appreciated by Canadians. Recent surveys in Canada indicate that Canadians from all political spectrums were delighted with Obama’s re-election .The President has since laid out a vision that will not only mark his second term, but could be one for the next generation. My sense is that Canadians are comfortable with this.


John Parisella is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently a visiting professor at the University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. He is also a Member of the Board of Directors of The Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

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