No need for President Obama to Kowtow at Toronto G-20 

You rarely see American helicopters swooping up and down in the airspace above Toronto, Canada, but they were on display this week. The helicopters were not there to distribute CARE packages or chocolates to starving Canadians, however. Rather, their presence is all part of the buildup for the meeting of the G-20 countries that starts here on Saturday.
 
Speaking of practice – while those US helicopter pilots familiarize themselves with downtown Toronto’s landmarks, in government boardrooms around the world, the leaders heading to the Toronto G-20 are also busy practicing. They are going over the draft speeches, briefing books, lists of talking points, etc. that they will use during the public and private events on the G-20 agenda.
 
One sticky point for President Obama’s advisers, as they help him finalize his speeches and talking points, involves the G-20 summit’s Canadian hosts. The Canadian political class and media are enjoying regularly gloating about the stability of Canada’s banking system, and boasting that Canada's federal government has not had to bail out any troubled financial institutions during the Great Recession. There’s a good chance that, in Toronto, a Canadian reporter will publicly press the President on the question of whether the US and other countries ought to copy Canada’s cautious banking practices, to strengthen their banking systems.
 
Bashing US banks for being reckless and poorly run (compared to Canadian banks) is practically an official Canadian tradition that gets revived every so often. It was trendy in 1907, for example, and it’s back in fashion today.
 
This political reflex can be seen as a way for Canadians to compensate for all those years when 19th century European visitors to North America would contrast the quiet, almost sleepy British colonies north of the Great Lakes (what is now Canada) with the economically dynamic American Republic. It’s a comparison that long irritated Canadians.
 
Playing on that lingering irritation is one of the oldest tricks in the domestic Canadian political playbook. Like a candidate for the US Congress waving the Stars and Stripes during a speech on Independence Day, beating up on the US in public over its economic shortcomings and bank crashes is a sure way for a Canadian politician to bring an audience to its feet and cheer.
 
If President Obama is asked in Toronto to kowtow to the Canadian banking system and hail its performance, his answer should be polite, without pandering – but pointed, without lecturing.
 
“Yes,” President Obama could say, “there are things that the world can learn from Canada’s banking system, just as Canada has over the years absorbed banking expertise from other countries. For example, Canada’s banking system owes much of its origins to American Tories who fled here after the US War of Independence, and imported American banking techniques.”
 
“It's been said that while these American Tories were politically loyal to the King of England, they were at the same time loyal to innovative Yankee ideas and concepts when it came to economic questions. And Canada absorbed the American banking techniques that these Tories brought with them, without worrying too much about the south-of-the-border origins of those techniques. That is because those methods represented a major step forward at the time.”
 
And the President could conclude: “Given the state of the world economy, and the difficulties we’re seeing on the job creation front, the G-20 countries, my own country included, all need to be open-minded when its comes to identifying and copying useful ideas. We need to be pragmatic, just like those early Canadians who pragmatically recognized the usefulness of American banking practices.”
 
In other words – if Canadians want to gloat about something, then they should stick to sports, not their banking sector.

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Neil Hrab

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