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Obama’s return to power called beneficial to Canada

WATERLOO — America’s Democrats shouldn’t be the only ones celebrating Barack Obama’s return to the White House, say two Waterloo Region-based experts on foreign policy.

Canadians should be cheering too, they say, since Obama is better for our economy and global relations.

That’s according to Paul Heinbecker, a former diplomat, ambassador and speechwriter for ex-prime minister Brian Mulroney, and Mark Raymond, a researcher who once worked at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. Both men are foreign policy specialists at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo.

Whoever won Tuesday night’s U.S. election was going to inherit an economy that needs some steep spending cuts to keep it on track. It’s a major fiscal challenge that threatens to put the U.S. back into recession, but only Obama appears willing to increase taxes to soften the blow, Heinbecker said.

Romney’s proposed tax cuts for the rich would have actually been counterproductive for economic growth, Raymond argued.

Those policies matter deeply here, because any slowdown in the U.S. economy will inevitably affect our economy, particularly in manufacturing-dependent Ontario.

“I think it’s underappreciated in Canada that Democrats are actually better on balance for the American economy, and also the Canadian economy too.” Mark Raymond

There’s an old belief that a Republican president is better for Canadians. But that theory doesn’t hold true if you look at recent history dating back to the Clinton administration, Raymond said.

It was Obama, after all, who pushed through huge stimulus spending to get the U.S. back on its feet, which was good for Canada. Romney, meanwhile, supported austerity measures that might have slowed American growth, he said.

“I think it’s underappreciated in Canada that Democrats are actually better on balance for the American economy, and also the Canadian economy too,” Raymond said.

It’s the Republicans, meanwhile, who have become the party of protectionism and pushing policies that would make life difficult for Canadian exporters.

“The Republicans’ reputation for being free traders has got some tarnish on it,” Heinbecker said.

It’s true Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney might have approved the Keystone pipeline sooner than Obama — a key economic project for western Canada. But with a revised proposal and the election out of the way, the president looks poised to let the project proceed.

The larger economic issue for our region is still manufacturing — and getting goods across the new bridge to Detroit, which Michigan voters gave the go-ahead to this week. Either president would have had little impact on that vital crossing, Raymond said.

With Obama’s plan to cut military spending, Canada may have a greater role to play on the world stage, Heinbecker said. Obama’s emphasis on global co-operation rather than American unilateralism means the U.S. is leaving a gentler footprint abroad — and that’s a good thing for Canada, too.

With extremely limited foreign policy experience, “Rambo Romney” had surrounded himself with hardline advisers from the George Bush era, Heinbecker said, people who could have pulled the U.S. back into its war-mongering habits.

Raymond, meanwhile, doesn’t buy the fear that Obama’s health care reforms could spike U.S. demand for doctors and drain specialists away from Canada, causing longer wait times here. With proposed cuts to doctors’ compensation, he doesn’t believe the pay will be lucrative enough to lure many Canadians physicians south of the border.

But whether you support Obama or not, Canada’s relationship with the U.S. is far greater than the person sitting in the White House, Heinbecker said.

“The United States will remain our most important trading partner by far, our most important economic partner, our most important investor, our most important neighbour and our most important security ally. None of that will change very much,” he said.

And Canadians shouldn’t forget the important role of Congress and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which will ultimately have to approve any of the president’s spending plans.

“The fact the House is still in Republican hands may complicate efforts to get anything done, in particular sensible economic policies,” Raymond said.

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