With Justin Trudeau facing an uphill battle for re-election in the campaign’s final days, former US president Barack Obama has given a rare cross-border endorsement of Canada’s prime minister.
“I was proud to work with Justin Trudeau as president,” Mr Obama tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “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 neighbours to the north support him for another term.”
When Mr Trudeau was elected in 2015 his message of hope and optimism echoed that of Mr Obama’s first election win, and the two men were close during the period when their times in office overlapped. In 2016 Mr Obama invited Mr Trudeau to a lavish state dinner, the first for a Canadian leader in almost 20 years.
The question now is whether Mr Obama’s vote of confidence will help Mr Trudeau, who has seen his hopes for another Liberal majority government when Canadians vote on October 21 reduced to concerns about whether he will even secure more seats than his chief rival, the Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer.
“The Obama tweet is meant to herd centre-left voters back into the Liberal pen,” said pollster Shachi Kurl with the Angus Reid Institute. “He’s a very loved and popular ex-president, but it remains to be seen if the Obama star power can move votes north of the border.”
With less than a week to go before election day, the most recent survey from Angus Reid shows the Conservatives with 33 per cent support among decided voters, compared to 29 per cent for the incumbent Liberals. Meanwhile, the left-leaning New Democratic party under leader Jagmeet Singh has climbed in recent weeks to 19 per cent, up 5 percentage points since the start of October.
Mr Trudeau has seen his support among left-leaning voters splinter, with the NDP and Green party hiving off potential votes in English-speaking Canada, while in Quebec the Bloc Québécois, a nationalist party with a progressive platform on climate change, has eaten into Liberal support.
Shortly after Mr Obama’s tweet, Bruce Heyman, the former US ambassador to Canada, also took to social media to praise Mr Trudeau for his “dedication and effectiveness” as a leader. “Canada has been very well served” by Mr Trudeau, Mr Heyman tweeted.
Mr Obama has yet to endorse any candidate in the US Democratic presidential primary, even though his former vice-president Joe Biden is in the running.
American presidents, while in office or after, have for the most part avoided taking sides in Canadian politics. In 1995, in the lead-up to Quebec’s sovereignty referendum, then-president Bill Clinton did give a pro-unity speech in Canada’s parliament.
Last month Mr Trudeau’s campaign was left in turmoil after photos and a video of him wearing brownface and blackface make-up when he was a student and teacher surfaced. While the incident sent shockwaves through Mr Trudeau’s base, the effect on the polls appears to have been short lived, Ms Kurl said.
Some observers questioned whether Mr Obama’s tweet constituted political interference in a campaign in which Mr Trudeau has repeatedly warned of the threat of foreign meddling. But Elections Canada said in a statement to Canadian media that “all individuals, Canadian or non-Canadian, are free to express their views on any topic during an election”,