I don’t doubt that Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau have shared ideology, a mutual admiration and perhaps even a friendship of sorts. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the former is rooting for the latter to prevail in Canada’s federal election (well, maybe a little surprising, given the latter’s blackface scandals).
It’s also true that Canadians generally admire and respect the former U.S. president, whose dignity and grace stand in stark contrast to the current president’s petulance and narcissism.
Despite all of that, however, I’m not sure Canadians — with the exception of diehard Liberal partisans — will appreciate Obama’s 11th-hour insertion into our electoral process. Frankly, we should bristle at the idea of non-Canadians telling Canadians how to vote.
With less than a week before Canadians head to the polls, Obama took to Twitter on Wednesday to share his endorsement of Trudeau, saying “the world needs his progressive leadership.”
For their part, the Liberals were rather coy on how this all came about. They wouldn’t say whether they asked Obama for the endorsement, and Trudeau slyly noted that “nobody tells Barack Obama what he should do.”
Of course, no one is suggesting Trudeau demanded that Obama endorse him. It’s also unlikely Obama simply decided on a whim to do so. Otherwise, the exact nature of how this all came about will remain murky for now.
If, indeed, the Liberals sought this out, it would certainly smack of desperation on their part. It’s unlikely they would be so eager to hear the thoughts of former U.S. presidents if Obama had suddenly developed and professed a fondness for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. I’m sure there would have been all sorts of howls if, back in the day, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush had seen fit to endorse a Canadian leader or party just days before a vote.
Obama may be a friend to Trudeau, but in many ways, he was not a friend to Canada. He vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline, resisted a deal on softwood lumber and included “buy American” provisions in his American Jobs Act. He was the American president, of course, and as such, his loyalties and obligations were to his own country. But if the interests of Canadians were not a priority for him then, why should we believe they suddenly are now?
Obama doesn’t live here, doesn’t pay taxes here, isn’t trying to keep or find a job here and doesn’t rely on or benefit from any government service here. Beyond his admiration for Trudeau, what is at stake for him in this election? He has no meaningful vested interest in the outcome of this election beyond what he sees as the broader cause of progressivism.
There’s certainly nothing untoward about like-minded political movements in democratic nations looking for ways of co-operating. That happens quite often, in fact. Former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, for example, has devoted himself to such efforts as serving as chair of the International Democrat Union (IDU), an international alliance of right-of-centre political parties.
The Liberals even cited one of Harper’s own pronouncements to counter criticism of the Obama endorsement: his January Tweet that India “needs the courageous and visionary leadership” of Narendra Modi.
One could call that an endorsement, and it’s possible that Indian voters were uncomfortable with a former Canadian prime minister telling them how to vote. Mind you, Harper’s tweet was several months before the Indian election, not a few days before election day.
As for Obama, this wasn’t even his first intervention in a foreign election: in 2017, he endorsed Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election. At the time, the endorsement was described as “highly, highly unusual” for a former president but perhaps justified by the spectre of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen prevailing.
Of course, Canada’s Conservative Party is nothing at all like the French National Front, and Andrew Scheer is certainly no Marine Le Pen. The stakes may have been high in France in 2017, but that’s hardly the case in Canada in 2019. There’s no reason why the “highly, highly unusual” should now become the norm.
Even if one accepts Obama’s argument about climate change as a “big issue,” is that to say his endorsement is based on his own analysis of all the various parties’ climate change policies? Does he even know who Jagmeet Singh and Elizabeth May are?
This is all a far cry from the sort of meddling that rises to the level of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election or other sorts of sinister, clandestine interference and disruption from adversaries that our intelligence agencies have been warning about.
Still, it crosses a line. With all due respect to Mr. Obama, he should butt out.