Posted by: ST on February 28, 2008 at 9:04 am

This is an intriguing story, to say the least:

Barack Obama has ratcheted up his attacks on NAFTA, but a senior member of his campaign team told a Canadian official not to take his criticisms seriously, CTV News has learned.

Both Obama and Hillary Clinton have been critical of the long-standing North American Free Trade Agreement over the course of the Democratic primaries, saying that the deal has cost U.S. workers’ jobs.

Within the last month, a top staff member for Obama’s campaign telephoned Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, and warned him that Obama would speak out against NAFTA, according to Canadian sources.

The staff member reassured Wilson that the criticisms would only be campaign rhetoric, and should not be taken at face value.

But Tuesday night in Ohio, where NAFTA is blamed for massive job losses, Obama said he would tell Canada and Mexico “that we will opt out unless we renegotiate the core labour and environmental standards.”

Late Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Obama campaign said the staff member’s warning to Wilson sounded implausible, but did not deny that contact had been made.

“Senator Obama does not make promises he doesn’t intend to keep,” the spokesperson said.

Low-level sources also suggested the Clinton campaign may have given a similar warning to Ottawa, but a Clinton spokesperson flatly denied the claim.

Hat tip to Captain Ed, who responds:

If true, this would show Obama as the worst kind of demagogue. It would mean he’s telling people what they want to hear while rejecting it himself, or alternately that he has begun his diplomatic relations with Canada by lying to them. Either way if true, it paints a disturbing picture of the kind of politician Obama really is.

This story has the potential to be explosive, especially if the Canadian ambassador to the US confirms it. I anticipate a lot of “diplo-speak” from both him and the Obama camp when other news outlets question them on it. In fact, I’m sure the Paper of Record will jump at the chance to cover this story to find out who said what and when ;)

Stay tuned …

PM Update: As expected, both camps are denying this was said, with the Canadian embassy saying they have not been contacted by the Obama campaign and also saying they have they contacted any campaign. Odd, since the story reported that an Obama campaign spokesman said contact had been made by the Obama campaign (the spokesperson who made that assertion has been named). Something smells here, and it’s not with the CTV story, but the denials. Here was the Obama camp’s denial:

Today Bill Burton of the Obama campaign told ABC News no senior Obama campaign representative called the Canadian embassy. “The news reports on Obama’s position on NAFTA are inaccurate and in no way represent Senator Obama’s consistent position on trade,” Burton said separately in an email.

Note the careful wording there. No senior Obama campaign rep. That means the call could have been made by someone lower on the totem pole, but still high enough in the campaign to have had access to the number for the Canadian embassy.

Evening Update – 10:45 PM: In spite of the denials, CTV stands behind its story:

But just yesterday, one of the primary sources of the story, a high-ranking member of the Canadian embassy, gave CTV more details of the call. He even provided a timeline. He has since suggested it was perhaps a miscommunication.

The denial from the embassy was followed by a denial from the Obama campaign.

“The Canadian government put out a statement saying that this was just not true, so I don’t know who the sources were,” said Obama.

Sources at the highest levels of the Canadian government — who first told CTV that a call was made from the Obama camp — have reconfirmed their position.

Who is their source? That is the million dollar question.

And check out this little inconsistency. First, the denial:

A spokesman for the Canadian Embassy to the United States, Tristan Landry, flatly denied the CTV report that a senior Obama aide had told the Canadian ambassador not to take seriously Obama’s denunciations of NAFTA.

“None of the presidential campaigns have called either the ambassador or any of the officials here to raise NAFTA,” Landry said.

He said there had been no conversations at all on the subject.

“We didn’t make any calls, they didn’t call us,” Landry said.

“There is no story as far as we’re concerned,” he said.


Roy Norton, the minister of public affairs for the Canadian embassy, is flatly denying that any Obama campaign official spoke to the Canadian ambassador in recent days or told him that Obama’s anti-NAFTA stump speech is merely “campaign rhetoric.”

“No, none,” Norton told me when I asked him if Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., had spoken to any Obama advisers recently. He added: “Neither before the Ohio debate nor since has any presidential campaign called Ambassador Wilson about NAFTA.”

Norton did allow, however, that the embassy on the staff level had discussed multiple issues, including NAFTA, with the Obama and Hillary campaigns at various times, and had urged them to look at NAFTA in a positive light.

“We’ve impressed upon them the fact that NAFTA has been good for all three countries,” Norton said. “They have made it clear that NAFTA is an issue of contention in the [U.S.], and that inevitably there would be discussion and debate surrounding NAFTA.”

He went on to say that even with those conversations, the campaigns made no specific committments. Hmmm …

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    1. Severian says:

      I’m a Democrat, you can’t expect me to mean what I say!


      Oy vey…

    2. Lorica says:

      “Senator Obama does not make promises he doesn’t intend to keep” the spokesperson said.

      Unless of course he is making them to the American people, or to our allies, whom he would invade without telling them as he doesn’t want to start an international incident. =)) What a door knob. Yes the empty suit continues to not disappoint me with his empty platitudes and rhetoric. Looking pretty good for a Republican landslide folks. – Lorica

    3. T-Steel says:

      My friend who works for (volunteer) the Obama Campaign told me this morning that there are a bunch of angry staffers calling and e-mailing since Senator Obama did not sanction this (if it is true).

      Even she said this could cause a BIG problem for him and I agree as an Obama supporter.

      On another point, if this “does him in” (I hope not), I’m glad it would be about an issue rather than false Muslim and Muslim extremist ties.

    4. Severian says:

      I agree with you T-Steel, there’s plenty to disagree with and point out about Obama’s policies and such that are true and a problem without resorting to such nonsense as whether or not he ever wore a turban.

      Let’s stick to real facts and issues. The tendency to get sidetracked into such silliness is, unfortunately, part and parcel of the American Idol mentality that is so common these days.

    5. Steve Skubinna says:

      Phantom unsourced stories aside, two more important issues to my mind are, one, is NAFTA really responsible for a net loss of US jobs? Two, how will it improve our standing in the world for us to unilaterally opt out of a binding multilateral treay?

      As for the first, the data suggest otherwise. It appears that jobs have been created far faster than they have been lost, and that they are not all burger flippers. One could argue that NAFTA is not relevant to the new jobs but is reposnsible for the lost ones, but it would require some degree of sophistry to do that while at the same time blaming it for jobs moving to, say, China.

      As for the second, only the candidates can explain how trashing our treaty obligations will make other nations respect us. But since as far back as Vietnam the left was silent on our treaty obligations to assist that nation, I’m not expecting a sudden respect for them. They want us to be bound by ones we have not ratified, and to ignore others we have. It’s just like their approach to UN sanctions. They are Holy Writ, save the dozen or so relating to Iraq, or for that matter the one establishing the state of Israel.

    6. Don says:

      See today 3/1 that secretaries for two labor organizations in Ohio issued a letter to Sen. Obama wanting some answers on the CTV story. Apparently is some concern at least in Ohio.