Barack Obama urges Canadians to hope in ‘dark age’

Former U.S. president Barack Obama spoke to more than 11,000 people in Ottawa on Friday night

This Feb. 19, 2019, file photo shows former U.S. president Barack Obama speaking at the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Summit in Oakland, Calif. Obama is set to give a speech and answer questions at an event in Canada’s capital later tonight. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Jeff Chiu, File)

He didn’t mention Donald Trump by name, but he didn’t disappoint them and told them what he thought about all that anyway.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama told a Canadian audience that the world may be a dark place since he left the White House, but its natural upward momentum can be corrected through a positive story of tolerance to counter the “primal” narrative of populism that has taken hold around the world.

“I left the office cautiously optimistic,” said Obama, sparking laughter among the 11,400 paying attendees at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa on Friday night.

“I know why you all are laughing.”

That was as close as Obama came to confronting the politics of the man who followed him to the White House. Wearing an open-collar white dress shirt and dark grey suit, Obama sat answering questions for about an hour from Tobias Lutke, the founder and CEO of the Ottawa-based commerce company Shopify.

It wasn’t a real journalistic interview, but when asked how optimistic he felt as he left the presidency, Obama answered like he often did in that setting: with a long, grim essayistic sweep punctuated with hope.

“I believe the long-term trajectory of humanity is in a positive direction,” he said. “But you get dark ages before the Renaissance.”

“You get World War Two and 60 million dead before there’s a post-World War Two order that stabilizes societies.”

The world, he argued, has never been healthier, wealthier, better educated, more tolerant and less violent than right now.

But it’s an age of political and social disruption where technology is gorging us with information and no one can agree on what constitutes the truth so a coherent debate can ensue, he said.

“It’s indisputable that things have gotten better. But in that march of progress we had the Holocaust, and we had Jim Crow and we had the Killing Fields. So we cannot be complacent.”

He said an “ancient story” that has appeared time and again throughout history is back and it is very “primal.”

“It focuses on us and not us — it’s tribal. It’s a zero-sum contest between people. And a strong man appears who is going to protect all of us from them,” Obama said.

“That kind of politics has gotten traction, that story has gotten a lot of traction around the world … it’s not unique to any particular country.”

READ MORE: Eight quotes from former U.S. president Barack Obama’s visit to B.C.

Then came his prescription: “That, I think, has to be combated with better stories because I think there’s a better story to be told about human progress — it’s inclusive and it’s hopeful and it is generous and it is kind and is based on science and facts and not fear.

“We have that in our capacity, but I think we get complacent.”

With that, Obama capped an hour in front of an audience that welcomed him like a rock-star with a standing ovation.

“I do have a little bit of a love affair with Canada,” he said as he took the stage at an event where tickets cost from $75 to well into the hundreds of dollars.

Since Obama’s presidency ended in January 2017, he’s become a big name on the paid speaking circuit, and appeared at a similar event in Calgary in March.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Conservation group challenges sustainable-certification claims of B.C. fish farm operator

Mowi West Canada refutes accusations it was ‘misleading’ public

Chan Nowosad Boates bursary to benefit north Island students

SUBMITTED ARTICLE Up to 50 students on north Vancouver Island will benefit… Continue reading

Summer toy drive happening all July at the Port Hardy RCMP detachment

The aim of the toy drive is to create a bright spot this summer for many children and families.

Port Hardy museum celebrates emergency services with new exhibit

The emergency services exhibit opened last week (June 6).

Port Alice RCMP are asking the public to slow down in construction zones

The alleged dangerous speeding incident is still under investigation.

Study suggests 8 times more people in B.C. infected with virus than confirmed

The study looked at anonymous blood samples collected for reasons unrelated to COVID-19

Conservation group challenges sustainable-certification claims of B.C. salmon farmer

Mowi West Canada refutes accusations it was ‘misleading’ public

Commons finance committee to begin probing WE Charity’s volunteering contract

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has admitted he should have recused himself from the decision

Woman receives ‘extremely disturbing sexual threats’ while on Lower Mainland bus

The woman was riding the bus when she received threats of sexual violence from someone nearby

‘We’re not busting ghosts’: Northern B.C. paranormal investigators check out bistro

Paranormal North Coast British Columbia recently checked out PF Bistro at City Centre Mall.

Russian hackers seeking to steal COVID-19 vaccine data: intel agencies

It is believed APT29, also known as ‘the Dukes’ or ‘Cozy Bear’ was responsible

Twitter racing to unravel mystery cyberattack

Some of the world’s most prominent names had their Twitter accounts post invitations for an apparent Bitcoin scam

B.C. announces funding to support post-secondary students with disabilities

The province is investing $275,000 in the new BCcampus website

Tough time for tree fruits as some B.C. farm products soar

Province reports record 2019 sales, largely due to cannabis

Most Read