Former U.S. president Barack Obama made a stop at the Vancouver Convention Centre this afternoon, addressing a crowd of nearly 4,000 at an event organized by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT).
In her introductory remarks, GVBOT master of ceremonies Kari Yuers referred to the presidential visit as “the biggest event we’ve ever had.”
Billed as “A Conversation With President Barack Obama”, the event featured a somewhat casual Obama—in a dark-blue suit but tieless—seated in an armchair and answering questions from moderator Iain Black, president and CEO of the GVBOT.
In contrast to his fiery Bobby Kennedy-like stump speeches during the 2008 presidential primaries, Obama today spoke with the comfortable gravitas of a former world leader while peppering his remarks with his trademark quips.
The biggest laugh of the night came when Obama was asked about a passage in Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, in which the former first lady described the 44th president as filled with hubris.
“I was a little cocky when I was young,” he said, “but she loved it.”
Fresh off a lunchtime speech earlier today at the Calgary Saddledome, Obama was clearly happy to be in Vancouver, noting the spectacular view of the North Shore mountains visible through the all-glass rear wall of the convention-centre hall.
“Vancouver, you’re really showing off with this venue,” he said with a big smile. “Sheesh!”
During his 60 minutes on-stage, the former president covered an expansive range of topics, including climate change, health care, Canada-U.S. relations, civil rights, the rise of nativism, poverty, and congressional gridlock.
Although he deftly danced around the subject of current president Donald Trump—often with pointed asides—Obama became serious when Black asked him to name some of the decisive moments of his presidency.
“John McCain’s decision to nominate Sarah Palin as his running mate will be seen as an important point in American politics,” he said. “Palin’s nomination brought a populist energy to the forefront and paved the way for Donald Trump. That was the moment Establishment Republicans lost control of their party.”
Security was tight for the event, creating long lines to get into the building. And with tickets—starting at $199—offered first to GVBOT members, the event sold out before being offered to the general public, creating a huge demand for seats. As late as this afternoon, secondary-market tickets were being offered on Craigslist in the $600-$900 range.
When he first became president at the age of 47, Obama was one of the United States’ youngest heads of state (only Ulysses S. Grant, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, and Theodore Roosevelt were younger). Although now sporting perhaps a little more grey hair, at 57 Obama still looks as trim and young in person as when he left office. He is also obviously enjoying life as a private citizen, noting that he’s been working on his memoirs, spending time with his daughters, and not worrying about alarm clocks.
“We were older when we became famous, so we never believed our own hype, and this allowed us to stay grounded.”
Still, it’s obvious that Obama continues to keep abreast of the issues, and none so much as climate change.
“I’m an old-fashioned guy and I believe in facts,” he said, in a thinly veiled swipe at Trump. “And the fact is, the world is getting warmer. You think we have problems with refugees now? Imagine if the entire global community is placed under the strains of crazy weather patterns. This is coming…we can’t pretend that this isn’t happening. We have a 20-year window to get things going in a smarter direction. “
When asked by Black about the difficulties of being president, Obama made it clear that hardships just come with the job.
“The nature of things that wind up on your desk are by definition things that other people find unsolvable. For all the mistakes we made, we didn’t make mistakes of integrity, and I’m proud that we left office without a scandal.”More