Former U.S. president Barack Obama endorsed Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau Thursday, calling him an “effective leader and a strong voice for democratic values.”
Canada‘s federal election race is so close that even a few swing districts on the western Prairies, a region usually hostile to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, may be key to his hopes to stay in power, analysts say.
Trudeau, 49, called an election for Sept. 20 two years early, gambling that the country’s successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign would help him hold the 155 seats he currently holds and pick up 15 more, which would allow him to govern without opposition support in the 338-seat House of Commons.
But he appears destined to come up short, according to polls, and a minority government for either the Liberals or Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives is most likely, said Darrell Bricker, CEO of pollster Ipsos Public Affairs.
“They’ve not been able to shake that initial disappointment for Canadians (with) the way the election was called and why it was called,” Bricker said of the Liberals, noting that Canada is entering a fourth pandemic wave. “It’s really stuck to the Prime Minister personally.”
A Nanos Research survey of 1,200 people for CTV on Monday put the Liberals at 34.1% popular support and the Conservatives at 32%, a reversal from a day earlier, when Liberals were at 33.4% compared with 34.9% for Conservatives.
With the race nearly a dead heat, potential swing parliamentary constituencies have emerged across the country. The Liberals are fighting 20 “toss-up” races and the Conservatives 19, according to 338Canada.com, an election projection site.
At least two Conservative seats in Calgary, heart of the country’s oil industry, are in play for the Liberals, said Lori Williams, associate professor of political science at Mount Royal University in Calgary. One Conservative constituency in Edmonton is also up for grabs, according to 338Canada.com.
“These Alberta seats become pretty important, because (the election) could come down to a handful,” Williams said.
Alberta shut out the Liberals in 2019 amid fears that their climate change policies would undermine the oil industry. But those fears have abated due to Trudeau’s support for the sector, Williams said.
The Conservatives’ best opportunity to win lies in the commuter communities around Toronto, referred to by their telephone area code, 905, Bricker said.
The Liberals dominated the 905 in 2019, but are on track only to split its roughly 75 seats with the Conservatives, raising doubts about the Liberals’ retaining power, he said.
Costas Menegakis, executive of a logistics company and the Conservative candidate for Richmond Hill, said fears of rising taxes and mortgage rates are driving support to his party.
“I think the Prime Minister miscalculated his potential fortunes” in calling the election, he said.
The left-of-center New Democratic Party (NDP) is challenging for Liberal seats in Toronto itself, leaving the ruling party under siege on both political flanks, Bricker said.
To offset possible losses, Liberals are eyeing breakthroughs in Quebec and the West.
In Quebec, nine constituencies, mostly held by the Bloc Quebecois – a Quebec separatist party – could fall to the Liberals, said Philippe Fournier, creator of 338Canada.com. The predominantly French-speaking province accounts for almost a quarter of the seats in the House.
The Liberals are trying to flip constituencies like Trois-Rivières, where a once-fierce push to separate Quebec from Canada has taken a backseat to issues like climate change, infrastructure and labor shortages.
When former newspaper opinion writer Martin Francoeur launched his Liberal candidacy for Trois Rivières, a constituency last held by the party in 1984, he was flanked by two cabinet ministers. Trudeau and party leaders from the Bloc and Conservatives have also visited to court voters.
“The Liberal party has a lot of hope for Trois-Rivières,” Francoeur said.
The Conservatives are eyeing to flip one Quebec electoral district from the Bloc, Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, in Quebec, along with four Maritime districts, a Tory strategist said.
But the Liberals like their chances in three British Columbia constituencies they do not currently hold, a party source said.
The Pacific province, however, as usual, is a wild card where four parties can be competitive, including the NDP and Greens.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Steve Scherer and Dan Grebler)
Singh’s NDP has one of the boldest climate policies of the major parties. The party platform includes reducing carbon emissions by 50% from 2005 levels by 2030, and stresses that it “will put workers front and centre of their climate action plan”, and phase out fossil fuel subsidies.
Avi Lewis, the longtime documentary filmmaker and climate activist running as the NDP candidate for West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country district, told openDemocracy that “there is no party on Earth that is currently addressing the climate movement in the way it needs to be”. For Lewis, the climate emergency isn’t just a climate emergency, “it’s also a housing emergency, transit emergency, inequality emergency”.
However, Lewis decided to run as an NDP nominee because he “sees a sense of urgency in the platform”. “All these emergencies are linked,” he says, “but so are the solutions.”
According to Maggie Chao, campaign director at Leadnow, an independent progressive campaigning organisation, the parties are “moving in the right direction” and recognise that “climate change is a pressing issue”. However, Chao insisted that “we’re nowhere on the scale and pace we need to be”.
Former U.S. president Barack Obama endorsed Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau Thursday, calling him an “effective leader and a strong voice for democratic values.”
Obama said in a Twitter post Thursday that he wishes his friend Trudeau “the best in Canada’s upcoming election,” and that he is “proud of the work we did together.”
The high-profile tweet comes as the Liberals remain locked in a neck-and-neck battle with the Conservatives in the polls, just days away from the vote, on Monday.
The former Democratic president’s endorsement could help sway some progressive voters to cast their ballots for the Liberals instead of the NDP, given that Obama is a “progressive icon” who remains popular across Canada, said Daniel Béland, a professor of political science at McGill University.
“The NDP is a threat to the Liberals and the Liberals want the NDP to stay where it is or even decline in the polls, so they will want to frame this as a major endorsement that could sway progressives,” Béland said.
But it’s unclear whether it will actually make a difference.
“Will this actually generate any significant shifts in the polls? You know, I’m a bit skeptical. I will have to look over the next few days,” he said, adding it “can’t hurt” the Liberal chances.
“I think it favours the Liberals, probably to the annoyance of the NDP,” said University of Ottawa professor Errol Mendes. To what extent depends on the amount of attention the endorsement gets in the news media, he said, adding “it will have an impact if it’s played up a lot.”
Obama, for many Canadians, is still a major world figure, Mendes noted.
Obama voiced his support for Trudeau in the 2019 election. The endorsement from the first Black president of the U.S. came at a critical time for Trudeau, who was facing a scandal after old photos of him in blackface and brownface emerged during the campaign. A campaign staffer told the National Post at the time that Obama’s tweet “recharged the base” after the embarrassment of the blackface photos, providing reassurance that Trudeau was “not a racist.”
Because the context isn’t the same in 2021, and because we’re now further away from Obama’s presidency, the endorsement this time around may have less impact, said Béland.
It could also have a negative effect, according to Mendes. “On one level, it could backfire where people would say, we should not have a foreign person intervening in our election,” he said.
It could also have the side effect of boosting the People’s Party of Canada, the conservative party started by former MP Maxime Bernier. Obama is the “antithesis of what they believe in. They seem to be very much following the Trump type of politics,” Mendes said.
Melissa Haussman, a professor of political science at Carleton University, pointed out the endorsement can only reach individuals who haven’t yet voted. Elections Canada said Wednesday an estimated 5.8 million Canadians have already cast their ballot in advanced polling. That’s nearly a third of the total number of Canadians who voted in 2019.
She said that Obama’s support is the “next best thing” to getting an endorsement from current U.S. president Joe Biden. “It’s sort of Biden by proxy,” given that Biden served as Obama’s vice-president, Haussman noted.
While she agreed the endorsement “absolutely” helps the Liberals with buzz and momentum, Haussman said it’s hard to say how many votes it will actually deliver.
Mendes pointed out the Obama tweet is part of a pattern for the former president, who has publicly mused about other countries where the progressive vote was divided, allowing right-wing parties to gain a footing.
“Because he has this global perspective, I think he’s probably seeing that is happening here in Canada, where if the progressive vote between the Liberals and the NDP is divided it will allow not only the Conservatives to come through, but potentially even increase the voting for Maxime Bernier’s party. So I think that’s one of the reasons why I think he’s intervened.”
The Obama endorsement comes the same week Trudeau held an event with former prime minister Jean Chretien, and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole received an endorsement from former prime minister Brian Mulroney.
China on Thursday denounced a new Indo-Pacific security alliance between the United States, Britain and Australia, saying such partnerships should not target third countries and warning of an intensified arms race in the region.
Under the arrangement, dubbed AUKUS, the United States and Britain will provide Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines.
France, which loses its own submarine deal with Australia, called the plans brutal and unpredictable.
The United States and its allies are looking for ways to push back against China’s growing power and influence, particularly its military buildup, pressure on Taiwan and deployments in the contested South China Sea.
U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not mention China by name in the joint announcement and senior Biden administration officials, who briefed reporters ahead of time, said the partnership was not aimed at countering Beijing.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the three countries were “severely damaging regional peace and stability, intensifying an arms race, and damaging international nuclear non-proliferation efforts”.
“China always believes that any regional mechanism should conform to the trend of peace and development of the times and help enhance mutual trust and cooperation… It should not target any third party or undermine its interests,” he told a regular briefing in Beijing.
Johnson said the pact was not meant to be adversarial and said it would reduce the costs of Britain’s next generation of nuclear submarines.
“Now that we have created AUKUS we expect to accelerate the development of other advanced defence systems including in cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and undersea capabilities,” Johnson told parliament.
The partnership ends Australia’s 2016 deal with French shipbuilder Naval Group to build it a new submarine fleet worth $40 billion to replace its more than two-decades-old Collins submarines, a spokesperson for Morrison told Reuters.
France accused Biden of stabbing them in the back and acting like his predecessor Donald Trump.
“This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr. Trump used to do,” Le Drian told France-info radio. “I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.”
The three leaders stressed Australia would not be fielding nuclear weapons but using nuclear propulsion systems for the vessels to guard against threats.
“We all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term,” Biden said.
“We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead,” he said.
Morrison said Australia would meet all its nuclear non-proliferation obligations.
One U.S. official said the partnership was the result of months of engagements by military and political leaders during which Britain – which recently sent an aircraft carrier to Asia – had indicated it wanted to do more in the region.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the focus on the Indo-Pacific but said Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines would not be allowed in its territorial waters.
Singapore said it had long had relations with Australia, Britain and the United States and hoped their grouping would contribute to peace and stability.
Japan said the three countries’ strengthening of security and defence cooperation was important for peace and security.
A U.S. official briefing before the announcement said Biden had not mentioned the plans “in any specific terms” to Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a call last Thursday but did “underscore our determination to play a strong role in the Indo-Pacific”.
U.S. officials said nuclear propulsion would allow the Australian navy to operate more quietly, for longer periods, and provide deterrence across the Indo-Pacific.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the new partnership, on which the EU was not consulted, showed the need for a more assertive European foreign policy.
“We must survive on our own, as others do,” Borrell said as he presented a new EU strategy for the Indo-Pacific region. “I understand the extent to which the French government must be disappointed.”
Biden said the three governments would launch an 18-month consultation period “to determine every element of this programme, from the workforce to training requirements, to production timelines” and to ensure full compliance with non-proliferation commitments.
Among the U.S. firms that could benefit are General Dynamics Corp and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.
General Dynamics Electric Boat business does much of the design work for U.S. submarines, but critical subsystems such as electronics and nuclear power plants are made by BWX Technologies Inc
U.S. officials did not give a time frame for when Australia would deploy a nuclear-powered submarine, or how many would be built.
A U.S. official said Washington had shared nuclear propulsion technology only once before – with Britain in 1958.
“This is frankly an exception to our policy in many respects… We view this as a one-off.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Nandita Bose, David Brunnstrom, Mike Stone, Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington and Colin Packham in Canberra; Additional reporting by John Irish and Matthieu Protard in Paris and Gabriel Crossley and Judy Hua in Beijing; Editing by Alistair Bell, Richard Pullin, Jon Boyle and Nick Macfie)
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