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

Just Posted

Surrey moves to ban sleeping overnight in RVs, motorhomes on city streets

Proposal comes amid complaints about homeless people living in recreational vehicles

Students, volunteers plant 300 trees in White Rock park

City partnership to ‘mimic the natural growth’ of Ruth Johnson Park

$50,000 reward for ‘extremely violent’ South Surrey murder suspect renewed

Offer for information on Brandon Teixeira to remain in effect through April, 2020

Surrey restaurant owner who pointed handgun at staff loses court appeal

Jawahar Singh Padda tried to get his 30-month sentenced reduced

South Surrey man allows smart meter installation ‘under duress’

BC Hydro says devices emit fraction of radio frequency from a cellphone

ELECTION 2019: It’s so close, it could come down to who turns out to vote

Black Press Media’s polling analyst on the origins of predictive seat modelling in Canada

Jack’s Devils beat Quinn’s Canucks 1-0 in NHL brother battle

New Jersey youngster scores first career goal against Vancouver

Two charged after owner’s wild ride through Kamloops in his stolen truck

Crystal Rae Dorrington, 37, and Derrick Ronald Pearson, 32, facing multiple charges

Kamloops Blazers blank Vancouver Giants

A loss on the road for G-men

Man found dead inside Richmond business, IHIT investigating

Police believe the incident was not random

Judge orders credit union’s bank records for Kelowna social worker facing theft allegations

The man is accused of negligence, breach of contract, fraud and a conspiracy with Interior Savings

Leaders pour it on with rallies, boosts for candidates as campaign reaches peak

The federal election campaign has reached a crescendo

Allegations of racism lead to ministry investigation at Vancouver private school

St. George’s School was contacted over what the school describes as ‘deeply offensive behaviour online’

Not a political question: Thunberg calls for climate action in Alberta

Edmonton police estimated the size of the crowd at about 4,000

Most Read