U.S. President Barack Obama’s 10 minute interview with CBC.’s Peter Mansbridge last night was very disappointing, but not really surprising. Obama made it clear that on all the major North American issues, there will be very little change from Bush administration policies without major campaigning by social movements.

On NAFTA, the most he would offer is that existing labour and environmental side deals "…might as well be incorporated into the full agreement so that they’re fully enforceable." Even if that actually happens, it will make little difference to what’s fundamentally wrong with NAFTA and is a far cry from renegotiation of the deal as promised in the Democratic primaries.

On the tar sands, Obama supported the Harper Conservative position that greenhouse gas emissions can be dealt with by carbon capture and storage. He said "…ultimately, I think this can be solved by technology. I think that it is possible for us to create a set of clean energy mechanisms that allow us to use things not just like oilsands, but also coal." Of course, the trouble with carbon capture for tar sands emissions is that the technology is untried and untested, does not yet exist and is not even close to being operational. The Conservative plan for carbon capture exempts all existing tar sands operations (which are already Canada’s largest growing source of g.h.g.s) and will not kick in for new plants until 2018 at the earliest. Plus there’s obviously lots more wrong with the tar sands besides carbon emissions, such as poisoning of downstream Cree communities; massive boreal forest destruction; unsustainable draining of the Athabasca, Slave and Mackenzie water systems; no refining in Canada; and much more.

On Afghanistan, Obama tried to justify his huge new military surge, though he did give a nod towards diplomacy and development as well. Within minutes of the interview, Obama’s office authorised 17,000 more U.S. troops for the morass of the Afghanistan war.

And on Buy America, Obama said "…we are going to abide by our World Trade Organisation and NAFTA obligations…". Those obligations do not preclude local procurement policies, so hopefully Canada too will start to lever Canadian jobs from investment of Canadian tax dollars.

All in all, while Obama is obviously far more intelligent and nuanced than George W. Bush, the actual results of what he proposed last night will be more damaging tar sands development, more war in Afghanistan, little meaningful change to NAFTA, and not much change to existing procurement policies in the U.S.

North American social movements have their work cut out. The most hopeful thing about Obama is that he seems to understand what’s wrong on all these continental issues. But so far, his solutions are only status quo…or worse.


Blair Redlin

Blair Redlin is a researcher with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, based in Burnaby. In addition to bargaining support for CUPE’s municipal sector in B.C., his research priorities include...