OTTAWA — Barack Obama’s former Canadian envoy says divided Democrats in his party can learn important lessons from Justin Trudeau’s slim election victory in their quest to defeat Donald Trump and the Republicans next year.
Bruce Heyman says there is a key parallel with Trump’s 2016 election victory and the Trudeau Liberal minority government win last week — neither of their parties won the overall popular vote.
Therein lies a lesson for Democrats, a party united on defeating Trump but divided ideologically in picking a candidate and a political approach, Heyman says.
The Liberals won the federal election with 33.1 per cent of the popular vote compared to the 34.4 per cent won by Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives.
At the riding level, that translated into 157 Liberal seats and 121 for the Conservatives, a victory that was won largely by winning key regions in Ontario and Quebec.
Democrat Hillary Clinton received more than three million more votes than Trump in 2016, but was unable to carry key states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida because of the U.S. Electoral College’s distribution.
“As we saw with the last election, popular vote actually does not matter in either of our countries,” Heyman said in a telephone interview from Chicago.
“You need to find those ridings or those congressional districts or those states that actually make the difference and work those. I think the lesson for America is the Liberals were able to identify those ridings . . . knowing that it was going to be a challenging election. They won where they needed to win.”
Heyman said his party needs to unite around a handful of candidates and resolve internal policy differences between progressives — embodied by candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — and moderates who are largely uniting behind former vice-president Joe Biden.
“The lesson that the Democrats need to have from 2016 and even looking up in Canada and elsewhere — you’ve got to come together,” said Heyman.
That means trying to take back the same key swing states that Trump won, which he said was akin to the Liberals’ success in Toronto’s suburban ridings that comprise the 905 area code, he said.
“That’s a really important parallel. People will vote on economics. There are a lot of other things going on out there that are emotional or highly distracting, but at the end of the day, people care about the food they can put on the table.”
Heyman, a former Goldman Sachs executive, was a top fundraiser for Obama before he was appointed to the Canadian ambassadorship in 2013.
Since his departure from Ottawa following Trump’s victory, Heyman has been a vocal booster of Canada-U.S. relations and a frequent defender of the Trudeau Liberals. He became especially active on Twitter when Trudeau’s relations soured with Trump in 2018 with a series of the president’s insulting tweets directed at the prime minister.
During their White House meeting in June, Trump and Trudeau mended fences over their shared goal of getting the newly negotiated North American free trade deal ratified by lawmakers in their two countries, which, so far, hasn’t happened.
In the final days of the Canadian campaign, Obama also took to Twitter to endorse Trudeau, an unusual move for a foreign leader but something Obama has done in other international elections.
Heyman said he had nothing to do with brokering any Obama endorsement and only learned of it when he saw his former boss’s tweet.
But he wasn’t surprised, and believes it was rooted in Obama’s passion for continuing the fight against climate change.
“I think it was a sincere endorsement based on one, a friendship, and two, a set of ideals where President Obama mentioned climate change as being an important one,” said Heyman.
“In all my work done with the Obama team, and with the Trudeau team, I think they were aligned on this issue. And I think the prime minister now virtually holds the leadership role for climate as a spokesperson in the world, as you’ve lost many other people promoting liberal democracy and climate change.”
Heyman said the support the Greens, the NDP and to a certain extent the Bloc Quebecois garnered shows that a majority of Canadian voters support parties that had platforms focused on combating climate change.
Heyman did not specifically mention Scheer, who Trudeau frequently branded as a climate-change laggard. Scheer rebutted that, calling Trudeau a hypocrite because the Liberals had fallen short of their greenhouse gas reduction targets.
The current Canadian ambassadors from the European Union and Germany have told The Canadian Press that Trudeau’s victory will ensure “continuity” on Canada’s commitments to fight climate change. But neither of them waded into the partisan fight that played out on the federal election campaign trail.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2019.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press