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If you are looking for Barack Obama’s new Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Austan Goolsbee to be anything but a political hack who will twist the truth to advance the President’s agenda, you may be disappointed. Mr. Gooslbee was the man behind one of the most oblivious lies made by the President’s staff during the campaign season.

During the Ohio Democratic Primary season, then Senators Obama and Clinton took turns declaring who hated the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) more (placating the Ohio steel industry). Obama said that he would renegotiate the NAFTA treaty but at the same time, Austan Goolsbee was telling the Canadians not to worry, Obama’s anti-NAFTA stance was just for show.

During the campaign, Canada’s CTV television network reported that, in early February,Mr. Gooslbee then and adviser to the campaign told Canadian officials that they need not take Obama’s NAFTA threats seriously, that those threats were just political rhetoric intended to win Midwestern primaries. At first both the  campaign, and the Canadian government, denied everything.  Obama himself, asked about the story the next day, said, “It did not happen.” Gooslbee also lied about the meeting.

Obama didn’t realize there was a memo written as a record of the February 8 meeting between Goolsbee and a man named Georges Rioux, the Canadian consul general in Chicago. The document was written by Joseph DeMora, a consulate staffer who was in the meeting.

On February 8, CHCGO had an introductory meeting with Austan Goolsbee, a senior economic advisor of Illinois Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama. While it was clear the campaign and Goolsbee himself have not been focused on Canada, he showed interest and enthusiasm for what HOM/Rioux had to say about the Canada-US relationship. He was frank in saying that the primary campaign has been necessarily domestically focused, particularly in the Midwest, and that much of the rhetoric that may be perceived to be protectionist is more reflective of political maneuvering than policy. On NAFTA, Goolsbee suggested that Obama is less about fundamentally changing the agreement and more in favour of strengthening/clarifying language on labour mobility and environment and trying to establish these as more “core” principles of the agreement. Should Obama win the White House, Goolsbee figures to remain a close advisor.

Noting anxiety among many US domestic audiences about the US economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. Consistent with CHCGO/WSHDC’s analysis, he cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans. He also suggested that of the Democratic candidates, Obama has been the least protectionist … . HOM asked whether we could expect to hear more of this as the elections progressed, Goolsbee thought not. In fact, he mentioned that going forward the Obama camp was going to be careful to send the appropriate message without coming off too protectionist.

….As Obama continues to court the economic populist vote, particularly in upcoming contests like Ohio, we are likely to see a continuation of some of the messaging that hasn’t played in Canada’s favour, but this should continue to be viewed in the context in which it is delivered.

As Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Austan Goolsbee will be making press appearances telling the public what to expect out of the economy in the future.  As he has lied to us before, can we trust him to tell the truth now?

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