In a wide-ranging conversation with the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, former U.S. president Barack Obama looked back on his time in the White House and ahead to big-picture issues like climate change, economic inequality and the unique relationship between Canada and the U.S.
Reflecting on his accomplishments in the White House, Obama described his efforts at health-care reform as a “significant step.”
“It’s still hanging in there,” he said, adding that he hopes the health care that Canadians “take for granted will be taken for granted in the United States as well.”
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Obama spoke of how we live in an increasingly interconnected world that is facing growing uncertainty. He noted that “in some ways, Vancouver is a winner in the changes that are taking place.”
He said the rise of the far right in Europe, Brexit and “current politics in the United States is a response — not always constructive — to a lot of these changes.”
Obama said looking back on his presidency, a key moment was when Republican presidential candidate John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, calling it a moment when “mainstream Republicans lost control of their party.”
The party had incorporated strains of nativism and populism into its electoral strategy, he said, but “Sarah Palin’s nomination suddenly brought that populist energy to the fore in the Republican Party and helped pave the way for President Trump’s presidency.”
Obama told the crowd of 3,500 who gathered at the Vancouver Convention Centre that Canada and the U.S. need to be global leaders when it comes to fighting climate change.
“I’m an old-fashioned guy. I believe in facts, and the facts are the planet is getting warmer,” he said.
He also touched on Canada’s unique relationship with the U.S., calling the two countries “friends and allies.”
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“We’re cousins,” he said, adding that “generally, your hockey is a little bit better.”
Obama joked about a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau near the end of his presidency. He said Trudeau wanted to speak with him about lumber agreements.
“I’m like, ‘Dude, I’ve got Syria…this is how we want to spend our time?'” Obama said.
“How about the guys in Minnesota just talk to some guys in Alberta and figure it out?”
Obama noted that lumber agreements are no doubt important to both nations but that the meeting highlighted that the “nature of the tensions that exist between us are, on the scale of global politics, incidental.”