U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walk down the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, June 29, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walk down the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, June 29, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Barack Obama says his approach to politics aligned with Justin Trudeau’s

Obama argued that U.S. and Canadian values are strongly aligned

Former U.S. president Barack Obama made a point of highlighting his admiration for Justin Trudeau on Wednesday, saying the prime minister’s approach to politics is close to his own.

Obama, who endorsed Trudeau toward the end of the recent federal election campaign, made the remarks during a one-hour question-and-answer session before a sold-out crowd of 9,000 at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.

The 58-year-old former president mentioned Trudeau and former prime minister Stephen Harper when he was asked to talk about the greatest challenges facing Canada-U.S. relations.

After a dramatic pause, which left the crowd nervously chuckling, Obama said he wasn’t too worried about Canada.

“Of all the things I stress about, U.S.-Canada relations are not high on that list,” he said. “Which is not to say there aren’t significant bilateral issues.”

Obama, dressed in a dark blazer and white dress shirt, noted that his two-term presidency — from 2009 until 2017 — overlapped with the Conservative government led by Harper and the Liberal government led by Trudeau, who first assumed power in 2015.

“Very different politics … and although my own politics are obviously much closer to Justin’s, we were able to do good work with Stephen Harper’s government on a range of issues, and on some we disagreed — and it was fine.”

Obama argued that U.S. and Canadian values are strongly aligned.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “When you guys show up in the U.S., we can’t tell you’re Canadian half the time. You’re kind of infiltrating us, and we don’t know it.”

Obama made headlines across Canada on Oct. 16 — five days before election day — when he tweeted his support for Trudeau, saying he was proud to work with the prime minister when he was president.

“He’s a hard-working, effective leader who takes on big issues like climate change,” the tweet said. “The world needs his progressive leadership now, and I hope our neighbours to the north support him for another term.”

The tweet energized the Trudeau campaign, but it also raised questions about political interference in the campaign.

Obama’s Halifax event took place against the backdrop of an historic day in Washington, D.C., where the first public hearing was held in the impeachment inquiry for U.S. President Donald Trump.

The House Intelligence Committee is looking into allegations the president planned to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless the new leadership agreed to investigate the son of Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Obama never mentioned Trump by name in Halifax, but he made a point of talking about polarization in politics and the dangerous internal trends that can develop into conflict.

“There were times where I felt as if the polarization we’re seeing, not just in the United States but in a lot of democracies around the world, has taken a dangerous turn. But what I’ve continued to insist on is that we have more in common than what separates us.”

He said there are two competing narratives about how societies organize themselves, the oldest of which is a tribal system in which “might makes right” and racial differences are viewed with suspicion and fear.

While this system inevitably leads to conflict, the more recent narrative preaches inclusiveness, caring for the weak and respect for women and those with different sexual orientations.

“The danger for Canada, for the United States and Western Europe is: how do you strengthen that second story?” he said. “If a nation is built around an idea of ‘us and them’ and it’s a zero-sum game based on power and ethnicity … sooner or later there’s a war.”

Reclining in a wing chair, his legs crossed and his collar open, Obama appeared relaxed as he offered his views about climate change, globalization, China, democracy and family life in the White House.

And he had plenty of good things to say about Canada.

“There is a spirit in Canada that is unique and worth feeling very good about,” he said. “The people here are still modeling the kind of civility and tolerance and thoughtfulness that is required for a democracy, and I hope that continues.”

Asked how he dealt with the stress of leading a superpower, Obama said: “I was pretty good at working out.”

He said he also believes he was good at making decisions about complex problems, but admitted that his darkest day in the Oval Office was Dec. 14, 2012, when a gunman used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 26 people — including 20 children — at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“I had to speak at a memorial just two days later with the parents,” he said, later referring to the “drumbeat of mass shootings” that occurred during his term in office.

“One of my biggest frustrations during my tenure as president was the inability for me to get Congress to respond in any meaningful way to that tragedy.”

Obama, the 44th president of the United States and the first African-American to hold the office, is on a speaking tour that started in St. John’s, N.L., on Tuesday and was to move on to Montreal on Thursday.

ALSO READ: Obama was born at B.C. Hospital, conspiracy theorists say

ALSO READ: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to meet with Trudeau today to discuss throne speech

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta now has 17,743 active cases of COVID-19

Province now has 17,743 active cases

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Community Christmas Eve Dinner cancelled

The 20th anniversary of the Community Christmas Eve dinner is cancelled amidst COVID-19 concerns

The consensus around the Sylvan Lake council chamber Wednesday was the town does not have the ability to properly enforce a proposed mandatory indoor mask bylaw. File Photo
Sylvan Lake town council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

Sylvan Lake RCMP are looking for the identity of the suspect who stole from over 40 resident mail boxes. (Photo Courtesy of Sylvan Lake RCMP)
Over 40 mailboxes broken into at Sylvan Lake apartment building

Sylvan Lake RCMP are investigating the incident and searching for the identity of the suspect

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Team Manitoba celebrate after defeating Team Ontario to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. Curling Canada wants Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park to be a curling hub for the season’s top events. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary facility set to become curling hub during pandemic

Curling Canada has provisional approval for Calgary’s hub-city concept from Alberta Health

Ash and Lisa Van carry a freshly cut Christmas tree while wearing personal protective masks at a Christmas Tree Farm in Egbert, Ontario, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Cole Burston
‘Everyone wants a tree and they want it now’: Christmas tree sales on pace for record

Anticipated demand for Christmas trees has sparked a rush by some to purchase more trees wholesale

Most Read