The Race for the U.S. Presidency: What does it mean for Canada?

Election fever is now upon us on both sides of the Canada/US border. In June, the Canadian International Council held a conference on the potential impact of the 2008 U.S. presidential election on Canadian politics. It began with an examination of Canadian perspectives on a changing US. Discussion of border issues focused on implications for trade, security and immigration. Speculation on emerging shifts in foreign policy priorities for a new US administration included an analysis of the situation in Iraq from Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow from The Brookings Institute. Too abrupt a withdrawal before the Iraqis themselves can take over would be disastrous in his view.

The second day began with a keynote address from the Premier of Nunavut on Arctic priorities. It was followed by a panel on Arctic Waters and the urgency for action. Suzanne Lalonde, an international lawyer and expert on Law of the Sea issues from the University of Montreal and Rob Huebert, CIC Research Fellow at the University of Calgary both spoke of Canada’s woeful inattention to these matters. According to Lalonde, the US and Russia are amenable to cooperation in resolving issues concerning the Northwest Passage as it opens up due to melting Arctic ice. It appears that Canadians will probably end up relying heavily on the US Navy for assistance in maintaining our best interests.

The final panel on Canadian responses to energy shortages and climate change was no more reassuring. The entire emphasis was on the promise and need for nuclear energy and tapping of new sources for fossil fuel production. Panelist, Annette Hester, from the Centre for International Governance Innovation read a statement from the US Senate which identified Canada’s tar sands production as being the dirtiest fossil fuel site in the world. There was a puzzling lack of response to this observation, from other panelists, despite probing questions from the audience. Nor was there any attempt to examine federal Liberal leader, Stephane Dion’s announced plan for carbon taxes.

Wenran Jiang from the University of Alberta who spoke on China, said that country is awakening to the growing environmental crisis and energy shortages. It aims to “leapfrog” over the West with technological innovations that will provide similar living standards but avoid the environmental devastation created by western habits of consumption and waste. On the subject of communications technologies and content he pointed to China as the world’s largest dumping ground for e-garbage. It seems that the world’s obsolete, unwanted TV sets, computers, Xboxs and playstation sets are coming back to haunt both the Chinese and the Japanese whom they seek to emulate. Surely it was inevitable that their thriving economies could saturate the global market with these electronic gadgets until the effluent started backing up. In Canada, both Edmonton and Toronto have recycling plants for old tube style TV sets to extract the mercury and lead before they are crushed but, as pointed out in the Globe and Mail last December, for every old TV set dismantled in Toronto, 600 new ones are produced for distribution worldwide in China.

Thomas Homer Dixon, now with the Balsillie School of International Affairs, gave the final keynote address. He reinforced the earlier call for nuclear sources of energy and exploration of remaining sources of fossil fuels “in as clean an environmental way as possible” because alternative sources, “simply will not kick in soon enough to avoid economic and social chaos”. He lauded Dion for at least coming up with a plan for carbon taxes, concluding that we may be faced with the need for some kind of authoritarian government in the future as chaos accelerates. He has evidently changed his mind on who will suffer the greatest impact from climate change and the coming energy crisis. He now thinks people who have always lived a subsistence kind of lifestyle will find it easier to adapt. It is those of us in the developed nations who will have the farthest to fall.