Canada 'watching very carefully,' Trudeau says of U.S. election cliffhanger

·5 min read

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday said he is keeping a close eye on the political drama unfolding in the United States, where the presidential election remains too close to call.

"I want to reassure Canadians that the Canadian government is watching very carefully events unfold in the United States as they go through their electoral processes," he said at the start of question period in the House of Commons.

"As always, we will seek to make sure that we are able to defend Canadian interests and Canadians as we move forward, as the Americans make an important decision about the next steps forward."

When that decision will be final is up in the air. Multiple states are still counting ballots. President Donald Trump has already announced his intention to request a formal recount in Wisconsin and filed a lawsuit in Michigan to stop more ballots from being counted.

According The Associated Press, by mid-afternoon Wednesday Trump had secured 214 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win, while former vice-president Joe Biden sits at 248. There are 76 college votes left to be confirmed in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada and Alaska.

Overnight, Biden preached patience and said everyone must wait for the ballots to be counted. Trump essentially declared himself the winner and said he would take his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Most Canadian politicians, like Trudeau, were practising a watch-and-see approach to the results, saying they will find a way to work with whomever is declared the winner. 

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said he too was "continuing to watch" the election results as he left his party's weekly caucus meeting Wednesday. Finance critic Pierre Poilievre said Canadians should focus on what we can control, like our own finances, and let the U.S. election play out as it will.

"The Americans have cast their ballots, and they're doing their counting," he said. "They'll pick a president. We as Canadians have to work with whomever they choose. Beyond that, I don't think there's anything we can do."

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet urged Trudeau to maintain his neutral positioning, because the Canadian government has "the obligation to respect and to stay away from internal American affairs."

Blanchet said he had no such obligation, however, as a leader who does not think he will be the prime minister of Canada, and "I might think that it will take a little more than four years before Quebec becomes independent."

"If I was an American, I would be a Democrat," he said. "And if I were a Democrat, I would be asking myself what did we do wrong? How come the American people support so much a man who openly lies, avoids paying his taxes, carries and shares prejudice against so many people. Why do the American people still support so strongly that man is a question that he does not have to ask himself. He's faring very well. The Democrats, the media, the institutions should ask themselves this troubling question."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who said Tuesday he wanted Trump to lose because he is a danger to the world, said Wednesday Canadians and Americans need to ask themselves why so many voted for someone who has been an "abject failure" as a leader.

Singh said Trump speaks to people who have felt for years that the system is not working for them and has used that to stoke division to his advantage. It's a sentiment that exists in Canada too, he said.

""It speaks to the desperation people feel, the frustration and anger people feel, that they haven't been able to get ahead," Singh said.

Canadian business leaders and political analysts worry about the economic and political uncertainty this drawn-out result will bring to Canada.

Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, tweeted that this kind of uncertainty is "the last thing the Canadian economy needs."

"Hoping the U.S. election results become clear very soon," he wrote. "While there are big implications regardless of the outcome, weeks of uncertainty sure won't help."

Perrin Beatty, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, agreed uncertainty is not good.

"From a business perspective, people want to know what to expect for the next four years," he said. "But we're simply going to have to wait."

Fen Hampson, an international affairs expert at Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs said a close race that ends up in the courts is "the dreaded scenario."

"And it will breed political uncertainty, which isn't good for Americans or Canadians at a time when our economies are reeling from COVID-19."

For Americans voting in Canada, the delay was also frustrating. 

Houston-born Jennifer Phillips, 30, voted by mail from Vancouver in her native Texas after moving to Canada last year.

"Americans know that issues like COVID, climate change, the global economy, require U.S. participation and leadership. So you know, what happens in America impacts the world," said Phillips.

Living in Vancouver, she says she has breathed the smoke that has drifted northward from the California wildfires.

"We need a president in office that realizes that things need to change and accept science," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2020.

Mike Blanchfield and Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press