As a youngster in the 1970s, on Labor Day weekends my family would vacation in Ipperwash, Ontario, on the shore of Lake Huron. For much of that time, American and Canadian relations were often strained, especially over foreign policy, and these governmental tensions could filter down to the respective citizenries.
Once, on the way to Grand Bend, we stopped along Lambton County Road 21 for soft-serve ice cream. While we knew enough not to mention the War of 1812, we were nonetheless oblivious to diplomatic niceties (some things never change) and the meaning of the Guess Who’s “American Woman.” As a result, my brother and I committed the faux pas of buying our ice cream cones with U.S. dollars. Across the counter, the server made a snide remark about our currency of choice. Irked, I responded, “I get mean when people mess with my green.”
Granted, it wasn’t a Churchillian riposte. But, hey, I was nine-years-old. (Truth be told, had I been 19 and similarly insulted while buying some Molson Brador from the old Brewers Retail, I can’t say I would have been any more witty, though I certainly would have been more profane.)
During this bumptious period of American-Canadian relations, the prime minister of our great and good neighbor to the north (or the south, if you’re entering from Detroit), was the Liberal leader Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Trudeau was determined to ensure Canada’s national identity would not be subsumed by the culture of its American neighbor. Early in his tenure during a March 25, 1969, address to the Washington Press Club, Trudeau explained his view of the two nations’ relationship: “These policies in many instances either reflect or take into account the proximity of the United States. Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”
Throughout his tenure as prime minister and, briefly, as leader of the opposition, Trudeau remained attuned and opposed to any undue influence by the United States upon the citizens and interests of Canada.
Jump forward 50 years. Heading into parliamentary elections, a Liberal prime minister of Canada is locked in a heated contest to retain power. Unexpectedly, he receives the endorsement of a former president of the United States. What would the late Pierre Trudeau think of this intrusion by an ex-president into a Canadian national election?
Doubtless, on one level, he’d appreciate the gesture, for Trudeau loved his three sons—the oldest being current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who, unlike Joe Biden, has been endorsed by former President Barack Obama.
“I was proud to work with Justin Trudeau as President,” tweeted Obama. “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.”
Perhaps the elder Trudeau would agree that the immediate benefit of Obama’s endorsement could be to quell any animus among the Canadian electorate regarding Justin’s embarrassing “blackface” scandal. By all accounts, Obama remains quite popular in Canada, which is no surprise as he did not govern there.
Yet, given the elder Trudeau’s unwavering defense of the Canadian national identity, electoral autonomy, and Canada’s interest in not being imposed upon by the United States, one wonders: If he were still with us, would he advise his son to politely decline Obama’s aid?
It is a difficult question to answer. In his Toronto Globe and Mail opinion column, “Barack Obama’s endorsement of Justin Trudeau is an unjustifiable American intrusion—and a gift to the Liberals,” the paper’s public affairs columnist, Lawrence Martin, expounded on his concerns about Obama’s interjection into the Canadian election:
The Obama intrusion, unprecedented even for a former president, constitutes unjustified meddling . . . The move, which justifiably infuriates Conservatives, is a gift for the Liberals who could receive a crucial shot of momentum from it in these, the closing days of a very tight race . . . That the former president would go to the extent he did reflects the new era of hardened partisanship and polarization we live in.
Martin is less than sanguine whether the Canadian electorate will feel imposed upon by their American neighbor. “Conservatives can hope that the Obama move will be seen as unjust interference and stir a voter backlash,” he writes. “Coming from another president, it might. From Mr. Obama, it’s unlikely.”
In a sad irony of history for both Trudeaus (the elder and the younger), due to an interloping globalist’s armchair electioneering from his Martha’s Vineyard compound, this Canadian election is not only about who will receive the citizenry’s consent to govern the nation. It is also more importantly about whether Canadians’ national identity and electoral autonomy will survive and thrive, or slowly be undone beneath the twitch and grunt of the sleeping elephant.