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Canadians no longer swoon for Obama

Analysis: One year on, Canadians are much like their American counterparts: They like the man more than his policies.

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Sept. 16, 2009. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

TORONTO, Canada — Almost a year ago — when U.S. President Barack Obama came to Canada and said, “I love this country” — it seemed the collective swoon would last forever. But a year in politics, as the cliche goes, is a lifetime.

Not that Obama now leaves Canadians cold — far from it. It’s hard to overstate just how reviled George W. Bush and his administration was here. It will take more than a year before Canadians stop being grateful to the man who threw Bush’s ilk out of office.

(Read about Canadians' anticipation of Obama's inauguration one year ago.)

Obama’s inspirational personality and oratorical skills also highlight the glaring fact that Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister, is an accountant who possesses all the charisma of that tedious profession.

Canada’s regionally divided politics has meant that Harper’s Conservative party has been able to form minority governments since 2006 with about 36 percent of the vote. Obama reminds many Canadians of the urbane leadership that once characterized their country, and how inadequate the current crop of politicians here is. For this, too, they are grateful.

But a year is enough to transform a politician who looked like he could walk on water to one bruised by wrestling with bottom feeders.

“One year into Barack Obama's term of office, two remarkable things stand out: how little he has achieved on the core issues on his agenda and how potent the right wing has grown during his watch,” wrote political scientist James Laxer, one of Canada’s more prominent left of center analysts.

“It's too early to make a prediction, but this has the feel of a one-term presidency about it,” he wrote last Sunday in a guest column for the Toronto Star newspaper.

“On the four great questions that have shaped his year in the White House — the economy, health care, war and the environment — Obama cannot claim any clear victories,” he added.

The most disappointing realization is that Obama is more a leader of pragmatic steps than of bold initiatives. While others invest in him their dreams, Obama settles for what can be done.

How else to explain the Senate health care reform bill Obama seems willing to accept? It fails to extend health insurance to all those currently without it, it doesn’t cap the premiums insurance companies can charge and it doesn’t allow for a public insurance option that would have created real price competition.