Gary Doer has always had an instinct for picking political winners. That instinct told him last summer that Joe Biden was eventually going to be the president of the United States.
The former Manitoba premier and former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. wasn't just playing pin the tail on the presidential nominee. Over the years, Doer said he got to know Biden well at social events and across the negotiating table on a variety of Canada-U.S. issues.
Over that time, Doer said he came to understand that Biden was a pragmatist and a deal maker, a politician that was well liked on all sides of the aisle who could bridge sometimes disparate points of view. That combination of attributes seemed to make Biden the right candidate to rise above the venom being emitted by then U.S. president Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
"Of all the potential Democratic nominees, I thought he had the best chance," Doer said in an interview from his Winnipeg home. "He has a special connection to working people that I thought would help him take back states from Trump."
Doer's arrival in Washington in October 2009 coincided with the first tumultuous year of President Barack Obama's administration. Biden, Doer said, was an omnipresent force in Washington in those years, out making deals and winning support for the administration on a wide variety of issues.
Doer said Biden was assigned the role of point man for the Recovery Act, the economic stimulus bill Obama used to combat the Great Recession. There were "Buy American" provisions in that act that had the potential to seriously harm Canadian businesses.
Negotiating directly with Biden, Canada eventually won a waiver for many of its goods and services. Doer said he believes the support Biden won in those negotiations from unions in key states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania translated into key victories in last fall's election.
Doer said he hopes Biden's legendary pragmatism will come into play for the $8-billion Keystone XL pipeline, which Western Canadian oil producers want to move product more cost-effectively to the U.S. Biden issued an executive order shortly after the inauguration stopping the project from going ahead.
Doer, who lobbied hard for Keystone XL during his time in Washington, said he thinks the pipeline could still be saved if it is positioned within a broader climate change strategy. "In American politics, it's hard to fight something that's become a bumper-sticker issue, and that's what this has become," he said.
On a personal level, Doer said Biden was one of those rare politicians who seemed to be liked and respected by just about everyone.
"He was always tremendously friendly, very funny," Doer recalled of his many meetings with Biden. "He said to me at our first meeting, 'Why did you ever agree to come here?'" Doer said. "He told me that everyone knows that if you want (a diplomatic posting) where you can just kick back and drink wine, you go somewhere else other than Canada or the United States. He said, 'Now you're going to really have to work hard here.'"
Doer said he misses the celebrations that normally accompany presidential inaugurations and had, in fact, planned to visit Washington for Biden's swearing-in ceremony if the pandemic had allowed.
Doer said the Canadian embassy — located on the 500 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, a spot that gives it a direct line of sight to the Capitol — played host to one of the most popular post-inauguration receptions for key power brokers from both the Democratic and Republican parties. Doer said he always preferred that reception more than the inaugural ball.
"By the way, the inaugural balls are totally overrated," Doer said. "I did go to some. Usually, you watch the president and first lady dance to a couple of songs and then it turns into a massive fundraising effort for the incoming president."
Given his familiarity with the city, Doer said he was "horrified" at the images of the violent insurrection that quickly overwhelmed security at the Capitol. "I've been in that building many, many times and I just couldn't believe how easily people got in," he said.
Doer said he was also shocked at how quickly the rioters got to the office of Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives. Social media had images of rioters ransacking her office, ripping the name plate off her door and posing for pictures sitting at her desk. "I don't believe the rioters accidentally found their way to the speaker's office. To me, it seemed as if it was an inside job to some extent."
Doer said he was also horrified by Trump's speech just prior to the insurrection, in which he invited his supporters to go to the Capitol to protest the election result.
While watching the speech and ensuing violence, Doer recalled an infamous quote by Peter Navarro, a Trump trade adviser who attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following the 2018 G-7 summit from comments that criticized the bombastic U.S. president.
Navarro famously told Fox News there would be "a special place in hell" for the Canadian first minister.
"When I saw him incite that anti-democratic insurrection, I thought to myself, there is going to be a special place in hell for Donald Trump."
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.