|President Barack Obama waves as he arrives to address the Canadian Parliament in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Canada, Wednesday, June 29, 2016|
In what is certain to be his last official visit to Canada before he leaves the White House, Obama turned in a memorable performance Wednesday that had politicians and dignitaries packed into a sweltering House of Commons repeatedly rising to their feet for standing ovations.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Obama to Parliament, “to our house.” The prime minister reflected on the history that had been made in the chamber and now, he quipped, “gets to see a bromance up close.”
In a speech that stretched almost 50 minutes, Obama left little doubt about the warm friendship and common values that exist between Canada and the United States.
“We Americans can never say it enough. We could not ask for a better friend or ally than Canada,” Obama said. “We see ourselves in each other.”
And he lavished praise on Trudeau, saying his election as prime minister has brought “energy and hope,” saying Canada and the world would continue to benefit even as he said his own time in office draws to a close. “Justin is just getting started,” he said.
And he highlighted issues that have been a priority in the early days close to home for the Liberal government.
He cheered Trudeau’s “powerful message of reconciliation” by pledging a new relationship with indigenous peoples.
On gender equality, the president said the work is not done until “all women in our country are truly equal, paid equally, treated equally, given the same opportunities as men; when our girls have the same opportunities as our boys.”
On climate change, he warned that the damning impact is “no longer an abstraction,” a reality that he said was driven home during a visit to the Arctic last year.
“It is not an issue we can put off for the future. It is happening now. It is happening here,” Obama said. “America and Canada are going to need to lead the way.”
He preached a united front against terror, the kind that “reached to the very doorstep of this hall,” Obama said, citing the attack on Parliament Hill in 2014.
But he said that must include the Muslim community. “They are and must be our partners in this effort,” he said to cheers.
Yet there was a poke. With NATO leaders, including Trudeau, getting set to meet in Poland, Obama had a message about military funding. “As your ally and as your friend, let me say that we’ll be more secure when every NATO member, including Canada, contributes its full share to our common security,” he said.
Obama easily wooed his Canadian audience. But as he prepares to become more involved in the U.S. presidential race, it appears much of it was aimed at Americans, too.
Obama never once uttered Donald Trump’s name. But on trade, immigration, global commerce, international co-operation the U.S. president gutted the controversial positions advocated by the presumptive Republican presidential candidate.
“There are those who offer a politics of us versus them, a politics that scapegoats others — the immigrant, the refugee, someone who seems different than us,” Obama said.
“We have to call this mentality what it is — a threat to the values that we profess, the values that we seek to defend,” said Obama, who will make his first campaign appearance with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on Tuesday.
He warned that “we cannot look the other way” when confronted with the plight of refugees.
Trump declared this week that the North American Free Trade Agreement is a “disaster” and vowed to renegotiate if elected. But Obama warned that to “draw a line” around a country is no answer.
“Restricting trade or giving in to protectionism in his 21st century economy will not work. It will not work,” Obama said to applause. “We cannot seal ourselves off from the rest of world.”
The U.S. president conceded that frustration over inequality, which he said gave rise to the British referendum vote to leave the European Union, cannot be ignored but cautioned that some politicians will attempt to play on those fears.
“And politicians, some sincere and some entirely cynical, will tap that anger and fear, hearkening back to bygone days of order and predictability and national glory, arguing that we must rebuild walls and disengage from a chaotic world, or rid ourselves of the supposed ills brought on by immigrants, all in order to regain control of our lives
Easygoing Obama reflected on his inaugural official trip to Canada — an Ottawa visit in February 2009 — that was his first voyage abroad after winning the election. “It was colder. I was younger,” he said to laughs.
Those present included Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Rachel Notley of Alberta. Actor Megan Follows, singer Nelly Furtado and two members of the Tragically Hip — but not Gord Downie, who is battling cancer — were also on the invite list.
Obama had arrived in Ottawa from Washington mid-morning and headed to the North American leaders’ summit where he met with Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
It has been 21 years since a U.S. president last addressed Parliament. That was Bill Clinton.
Obama’s speech referenced famous Canadians such as John Kenneth Galbraith, Gordie Howe, Lester Pearson. He ended by citing a quote used by Pierre Trudeau, that a “country is something that is built every day out of certain basic shared values.”
He took his seat as everyone else in the chambers rose in sustained standing ovation. Chants of “four more years” left Obama with a broad grin on his face.