Former U.S. president Barack Obama added his star-power to Justin Trudeau’s re-election campaign Wednesday, endorsing the Liberal Leader as he tries to convince progressive voters his party is the only one that can stop a Conservative government.
The former president issued the statement on Twitter, with less than a week to go before the Oct. 21 federal vote.
“I was proud to work with Justin Trudeau as President,” Mr. Obama said. “He’s a hard-working, effective leader who takes on big issues like climate change. The world needs his progressive leadership now, and I hope our neighbors to the north support him for another term.”
I was proud to work with Justin Trudeau as President. He's a hard-working, effective leader who takes on big issues like climate change. The world needs his progressive leadership now, and I hope our neighbors to the north support him for another term.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) October 16, 2019
The rare intervention from a former U.S. president into Canadian elections comes as the Liberals and Conservatives are deadlocked in the polls. If an election were held today, polls suggest Canadians would elect a minority government.
Mr. Trudeau declined to say Wednesday whether he or his team asked Mr. Obama for the endorsement. He also did not respond to a question about concerns that Mr. Obama’s endorsement could constitute foreign interference.
“I appreciate the kind words and I’m working hard to keep our progress going,” Mr. Trudeau briefly said to reporters outside a coffee shop in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr. Obama’s endorsement was trending on Twitter and had more than 30,000 retweets and 192,000 likes by 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Wednesday in Ancaster, Ont., that he’s not very interested in “what former foreign leaders are saying.”
“I’ve got millions of Canadians like the ones here tonight behind me,” he said after a gathering at a packed pub.
Mr. Scheer also declined to say whether he thought it was appropriate for Mr. Obama to weigh in on the Canadian election, saying that was for Canadians to judge.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who himself has garnered attention for his celebrity followers on Instagram, said Wednesday he has a lot of respect for Mr. Obama but “in this regard he is wrong.”
“Mr. Trudeau has really let down people and consistently chosen to help out the powerful and the wealthy over Canadians,” Mr. Singh said in an interview.
Bruce Heyman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Canada during Mr. Obama’s second term in office, also endorsed Mr. Trudeau on Twitter shortly after Mr. Obama did. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Heyman said he didn’t know Mr. Obama was going to endorse the Liberal Leader and he decided to second the former president’s endorsement after seeing the tweet.
Earlier this year, the Trudeau government warned that this federal election would be vulnerable to foreign interference. The focus of the concern was largely on covert actions, such as spreading false information online, as opposed to overt actions, like public statements from political leaders.
Elections Canada said the endorsement itself does not constitute foreign interference in the election.
“A foreign citizen tweeting, or speaking at an event organized in Canada, does not by itself constitute an instance of undue foreign influence under the Canada Elections Act,” spokesperson Natasha Gauthier said in an e-mail. “Whether expenses were incurred, who incurred them and for what reason would be among the factors that need to be considered before determining if undue foreign influence has taken place.”
Liberal Party spokesperson Zita Astravas said the party did not pay for the endorsement.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Mr. Obama’s actions, and on whether U.S. President Donald Trump had a preference in the election.
Mr. Obama’s office did not respond to questions on whether Mr. Trudeau or his campaign had requested the endorsement.
Mr. Obama met Mr. Trudeau for a beer in May when he was in Ottawa to deliver a speech. Mr. Obama played host to Mr. Trudeau for an official visit at the White House in 2016, in the Democrat’s final year in office.
Matt Wolking, deputy communications director for Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, mocked the endorsement on Twitter.
“FOREIGN ELECTION INTERFERENCE,” he wrote.
Mr. Obama’s endorsement lands in the middle of an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump’s efforts to solicit foreign interference in next year’s U.S. election by pushing the President of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, one of his potential rivals for the White House.
Senator Mitt Romney, one of the few Republicans to criticize Mr. Trump’s actions in Ukraine and Mr. Obama’s opponent on the presidential ballot in 2012, told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Obama’s endorsement did not constitute foreign election interference.
“There’s interference, and then there’s support for a friend,” he said outside the Senate chamber. “Election interference would be working behind the scenes to try to get other people to interfere and to distort the electoral process.”
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin evinced some discomfort when informed of Mr. Obama’s move Wednesday.
“I say we all stay in our own lanes,” he told The Globe and Mail at the U.S. Capitol.
Still, he said Mr. Obama’s decision to weigh in, as a private citizen and friend of Mr. Trudeau’s, was different from Mr. Trump’s actions on Ukraine.
The latest Nanos Research survey results show that even after Thursday’s French-language debate, Friday’s release of the costed Conservative and NDP platforms and the Thanksgiving long weekend, no party has established a clear lead.
The Conservatives and Liberals remain in a statistical tie with 33 per cent and 32 per cent support respectively. The NDP has climbed from 15 per cent at the start of the month to 19 per cent, followed by the Greens at 9 per cent and the Bloc Québécois at 6 per cent.
In an interview, pollster Nik Nanos said it is highly unlikely that the Liberals or Conservatives could win the 170 seats required to form a majority government with polling numbers in the low 30s.
“This has really been an election about imperfect choices and indecision. It’s pretty clear that voters aren’t enthralled with either two of the front-running parties or leaders and no one’s ready to give either one of them any type of strong mandate," he said.
The poll was sponsored by The Globe and Mail and CTV, with a total of 1,200 Canadians surveyed on Oct. 12, 13 and 15 (respondents were not polled on Thanksgiving Monday). It has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Respondents were asked: “If a federal election were held today, could you please rank your top two current local voting preferences?” A report on the results, questions and methodology for this and all surveys can be found at http://tgam.ca/election-polls.
Mr. Obama was president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. He also endorsed Emmanuel Macron for president in France’s 2017 election.
Former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations Paul Heinbecker said he didn’t think there was any impropriety in Mr. Obama’s endorsement.
“I don’t think it’s unfair, just unorthodox," Mr. Heinbecker said. He added that he thinks most American politicians “know too little about Canadian politics to risk intervening.”
With reports from Michelle Zilio, Janice Dickson and Kristy Kirkup