Let’s keep the visit in perspective

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He’s a great guy by all accounts, and a welcome sight in the halls of American power – especially after the past eight years of darkness and negativity. But, do we have to act so damned needy?

President Barack Obama is heading north to have a brief chat with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. The needy among us have been wound up into a state of near rapture over the fact Obama chose Canada to be the first “foreign” visit.

Hell, we used to be the same country, here and there. Still are, in a sense – a factor more disturbing to some than to others.

Anyway, things are so pressing on the new president it’s a brief working visit, as they all should be, in good times and bad. The global recession is the main issue, with related trade and common foreign policy issues likely to be mentioned.

So, let’s get real.

The guy is the president of the United States, and he will act and react as that. He and his country have pressing obligations, foreign and domestic. They have problems, many stemming back to the earliest days of settlement, culminating in the socio-economic calamity they now face.

We have to understand, every man, woman and child of us; however “liberal” some will tag him in the United States, he is and will forever be to the right of Harper.

Once that’s understood, we can maybe get on with working with Obama and his government.

No guarantees

Hopefully, they make decisions and take options that benefit us, too. There is no guarantee.

We are luckier than them. Our social safety net is in place. Our banking system is the envy of most. (Folks forget about that when calling for Harper to don his blue sweater again and make a speech.)

We just have to wait for the Americans to get their system working again.

In the trade matter, we’re getting the blame for job losses in some sectors in the United States through NAFTA. Well, NAFTA has been a boon to some, but devastating to others, especially when Mexico is factored into the mix.

This is especially hard for me to take personally. NAFTA is responsible for shutting down the major industry of my hometown, Trenton, Nova Scotia; the birthplace of steel making in Canada. Anyone who walked to cadence the steel works rail axle hammer could only have felt some security in that sound of the past. Sure, the plants often looked like they needed a coat of paint (or demolition). Yes, parents would hold their kids up to the window and warn them they would wind up working there if they didn’t do well at school. The same is likely true of the nearby mining towns. But now that those jobs – steel and most mining - are gone, we realize how treasured they should have been: not just for the money they poured into the communities; with the rest of the manufacturing network in the country, they were the foundation of our industrial economy, our society – yes, our country. Not to mention the importance to our increasingly eroded work ethic.

So, I get really testy when I hear Americans talking of their rust belt; I know what it’s like to have grass growing in rail yards that should be massed with brand-new railcars.

Read Sam Slick

Meanwhile, one way to get a good handle on how Americans have felt and why is to get your mitts on a good copy of Valley native Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s series on the Yankee clockmaker, Sam Slick.

The roguish Slick roamed the province during the 1830s and ‘40s, fully exploiting his Yankee salesmanship skills, expounding on every pressing issue of the time. Judge Haliburton wrote his Sam Slick and other treasures during the early and mid-1800s. They have some useful - and often disturbing - reflections of the times.

Unfortunately, Sam has gone out of style these last few decades: other authors to read, changing literary tastes and, in some cases, political correctness, have taken their toll on our Sam.

Maybe it’s time we above the 49th dusted off the books, and the character. There are some really valuable insights that hold true even today. One is Slick’s “free and enlightened” folks in the republic to the south apparently aren’t all that free or enlightened. Never have been.

We’ll have to enlighten ourselves, through Slick and subsequent sources, so we can effectively cope with this.

In the meantime, we hope for lots more of these short working visits between Harper and Obama, and their successors. There is a lot to discuss.

Geographic location: United States, Canada, Mexico Trenton Nova Scotia

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