No one would envy the size or serious nature of President Obama’s inbox when he takes office next week: the deepest recession for decades, America’s economy in freefall, conflict in the Middle East, climate change to name just a few.
There will be pressing issues at home and abroad. You would think that given the serious nature of the current situation in Gaza that maybe the Middle East would be Obama’s first foreign visit.
But no, the new President will stay closer to home. His first foreign trip, though will be to Canada. If Obama thought that his the trip would be a Diplomatic doddle, he will have to navigate the thorny issue of Canada’s dirty tar sands.
Already the Canadian Government is starting to spin its message that Washington could risk its energy security if it doesn’t take advantage of Alberta’s oil.
Speaking on a Calgary radio station, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said: “We want to work together with the United States on environmental and energy issues. To be frank on the oil sands, we’ve got to do a better job environmentally. At the same time, the development of these things is pretty important, in our judgment, to North American energy security.”
Harper wants to negotiate a climate change agreement with the new Obama administration that protects the oil sands development, but any kind of agreement will be a contradiction in terms. You can’t save the climate whilst developing oil sands.
And Canadian environmental groups are now demanding that Obama rejects special treatment for oil sands under any deal. “The integrity of such a system would be entirely compromised should it somehow give a ‘pass’ to the production of high carbon oil from the tar sands, which many believe is the intent of the overture,” said the letter, which was signed by a half-dozen groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation, the Pembina Institute and the Sierra Club of Canada.
Copies of the letter were sent to Mr. Obama’s cabinet designations, including soon-to-be secretary of state Hillary Clinton, incoming energy secretary Steve Chu, and the president-elect’s special adviser on energy and climate change, Carol Browner.
Welcome to your first international headache Mr.Obama. And this one, like the Middle East, will not go away quietly.