U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign event at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas, Sept. 30, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
OTTAWA - The outcome of the next U.S. presidential elections will boil down to one thing: whether American voters go to the polls thinking this is a referendum on the past four years, or a choice between two competing visions of getting America from where it is now to where it wants to go.
This was the take-home message from U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson during a speech to students at Carleton University's Norman Patterson School of International Affairs Monday night.
Jacobson played a key role in Obama's 2008 campaign and made little secret of his partisanship, despite a sincere effort to convey "just the facts."
In illuminating students to two key factors to consider in the election, Jacobson was unequivocal. The first: polls don't matter - so "pay absolutely not attention to them." The second: "A week is an eternity in politics."
So the question, Jacobson said, "will something happen between now and Nov. 6 to change the trajectory?"
By all accounts Obama now holds a fairly firm lead, but Jacobson explained there remain three "unknown unknowns" that could significantly impact voting choices. The economy: "Jobs numbers are out this Friday ... but people know where we are (on that)." The collapse of the euro: "But because of the European Central Bank's actions, it's unlikely that some cataclysmic event (will happen) between now and Nov. 6," and foreign policy. And on that, anything could happen, Jacobson said.
"Iran is the most likely," he said. "The politics of Iran could play out either way. It could be a potential exogenous shock that could change the trajectory."
And on Canada, Jacobson is a fan.
"Canada has a 96% approval rating in America," he said. "That's the highest in history."
Who becomes the next U.S. president will have one primary impact on Canada, Jacobson said, and that is in bilateral relations.
"The economy. The single most important thing the US can do for Canada is get its economy back on track," he said. "If we get the economy back on track, there is enormous potential for Canada."
Jacobson also weighed in on convicted terrorist Omar Khadr's return to Canada.
"The United States obviously wanted to return Mr. Khadr to Canada, it is a detailed process in order to get that done," he said. "I'm glad that it's behind us. We appreciate the actions of Canada. The relationship between the US and Canada, as I said earlier today, is a strong one.
"It has been a strong one, it was strong the day before they took him back, it was strong the day after and it does not impact on that."
Jacobson said he wouldn't use the word "pressure" on Canada from the US to describe Khadr's repatriation.
"We had an understanding with Canada that's public with the fact that they look favourably upon a request," he said. " "The president has made it very clear he wants to close Guantanamo this is a step in that direction and we explained the Canadians' desire but you don't pressure, that's not how it works."