What happens in the United States always matters enormously to Canadians, but I cannot remember the last time the inauguration of a new president generated so much interest.

When President-elect Barack Obama takes his oath of office, Canadians will sincerely wish him well, because we know that our safety and prosperity are inexorably linked to yours.

The health of the American economy is the No. 1 preoccupation in Canada, just as it is in your country. Our economies are deeply intertwined, and we cannot hope to thrive if you do not. We fervently hope that America's commitment to open trade will be part of any strategy the new administration adopts to cope with the current crisis. Recourse to protectionist measures would not only harm all of America's trading partners, chief among them its North American Free Trade Agreement partners, but also America itself by weakening export markets for its own products.

Canadians will also be keenly interested in the path Obama charts to tackle climate change. America is uniquely placed to induce a paradigm shift in our societies. Your position as a role model may have suffered of late, but for millions of people, American-style prosperity is still the standard to emulate. If you set ambitious targets for yourselves and invent a new, greener version of the "American way of life," the ripple effects will be felt everywhere. Your willingness to lead is also our only hope of persuading emerging economies to carry a greater, if not entirely equal, share of the burden.

The nuclear-proliferation threat should also be high on everybody's agenda. The challenge is not only to contain the immediate ambitions of countries such as Iran and North Korea. It is also to find ways to shore up nonproliferation rules embodied in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at a time when plans for the construction of a large number of new nuclear power plants around the world will mean more nuclear material produced, transported and traded across borders than ever before.

An early decision by the United States to ratify the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would be extremely well-received internationally. Obama could also propose a new round of negotiations with Russia to further reduce the nuclear arsenals of the two countries. Such concrete steps on the way to full nuclear disarmament, a goal now advocated by many of your most credible defense and foreign-policy experts, would help build a much stronger international consensus against would-be nuclear-weapons states.

Canadians expect the new administration to display a more positive attitude toward international agreements and multilateral institutions than the Bush administration did. Multilateralism is not a panacea, of course, but a world in which all, including the most powerful, agree to abide by the same rules is likely to be more stable and less conflicted than one where "might makes right."

The geopolitical environment has changed enormously in recent years. Russia is back in its game, and China's voice matters more every day. Leading developing countries, such as India, demand a place at the decision-making tables. But there is still ample room for the United States to set the direction, tone and pace.

Canadians are confident that Obama will have the wisdom and the skill to reach out to the many who still look to the United States for leadership. If he does so, he will enjoy the support of America's friends when the time comes, as it surely will, for hard choices to be made, and tough action to be taken.

 

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.