Trump or Biden

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OTTAWA — Four more years of an inscrutable, unpredictable Donald Trump. Or a new chapter with a friendly, predictable Joe Biden.Both options hung in the balance for Canada as the U.S. presidential election clawed through its unresolved Tuesday night cliffhanger offering no political certainty over who would occupy the foreign office most important to Canadian interests.

As Americans marched to the polls earlier Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland offered an assessment that foreshadowed the evening’s uncertainty.

“Our federal government is absolutely ready. We have thoughtfully prepared for all eventualities and I am really confident that we have a plan no matter what happens,” she said.Tuesday’s early results came as Americans went to the polls, capping a campaign marked by voter intimidation, threats of postelection violence, and concern about the potential breakdown of democracy itself.

Colin Robertson, a retired diplomat who served in multiple U.S. postings, said Canadians have every reason to be concerned about what has been unfolding south of the border, but now is not the time to take sides.

“What can we do? Keep calm, consult with the allies and, as (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau said, prepare for all contingencies.”

The first returns showed Trump, as expected, winning in Indiana and Kentucky. He also won Florida after an early see-saw for that crucial state.

It was going to be a long night that would likely not produce a definitive result, said Mark Feigenbaum, the Toronto tax lawyer who is the chairman of Republicans Overseas Canada.

“It’s really encouraging that a lot of people are out voting. Whomever they’re voting for, I think it’s good,” he said.

Early results showed Biden performing better than expected in Republican strongholds such as Texas and Ohio. But then Trump surged back and ended up being declared the winner in both states.

Bruce Heyman, Barack Obama’s second ambassador to Canada, cautioned: “Judging a game at half time or the first period, you just can’t do it. You have to wait to the end.”

There was a tug of war in Florida, with its 29 votes in the electoral college, where a presidential candidate needs at least 270 votes to win. But by the wee hours of Wednesday Trump was in a comfortable lead with the vast majority of the ballots counted.

Bessma Momani, an international affairs specialist at the University of Waterloo, said it was too early to draw any definitive conclusions.

“People are just projecting their own hopes,” she said.

“The early voting is pretty spectacular. From the academic side of this, usually early voting does not indicate a vote for the incumbent.”

Earlier Tuesday, a new poll from Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found a clear majority of Canadians surveyed worried that the United States will suffer a breakdown of its system marked by “social chaos” if no clear winner emerges.

That fear was driven by the assumption that Trump won’t accept defeat if he does in fact lose, or may prematurely declare victory before all votes, including mail-in ballots, can be legally counted.

The Leger poll found that three-quarters of those surveyed in Canada are worried about the U.S. election, and 68 per cent worry that there will be a “complete breakdown of the political system in the U.S. leading to a period of social chaos.”

Four out of five respondents said they were concerned that increased racial tension would lead to protests and violence.

“It’s a bit like watching your neighbour’s roof catch fire,” said Perrin Beatty, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

“You’re both fascinated and horrified.”

The survey of 1,516 Canadians selected from an online panel was conducted from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1. Polls conducted this way do not come with a margin of error, since they are not considered random.

The survey delved deeper into Canadians’ anxiety: The possibility of “significant civil unrest or violence” in the streets on election day or the following days worried 77 per cent of respondents; 72 per cent were concerned that Trump wouldn’t accept the election result if he lost; 62 per cent were worried about a stock market crash.

Georganne Burke, an Ontario-based dual Canadian-American citizen who has campaigned for Trump in the U.S., blamed the Democrats for stoking fears of unrest and violence.

Burke said it was “hype” that Trump would refuse to accept a defeat.

“That’s garbage. Will he be unhappy? Sure, he’ll be unhappy. Will he say outrageous things? Probably. But he’ll leave.”

The Leger poll left no doubt who Canadians want to win the White House — 80 per cent favoured Biden.

Trudeau said Tuesday that Canada’s job is to work with whomever American voters elect, and cited trade deals as particular evidence that his government has been able to work with Trump.

He said he would spend some time watching the results Tuesday night, though he acknowledged that word of a definite winner could take days or even weeks.

If there should be trouble in the U.S., Freeland said in response to a question about that possibility, Canadian diplomats will be prepared to assist Canadians living there.

“It is absolutely a responsibility of our government to be there for Canadians outside out country, and we will be there for them, too.”

Like Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Canadians would be closely watching as Americans “practise their democracy.”

Sarah Goldfeder, now an Ottawa-based consultant and former U.S. diplomat under two American ambassadors, said Canadians must be vigilant to guard against the ideological infiltration of extreme, divisive politics into Canada.

“Literally, stores are boarded up across America right now, in anticipation of civil unrest in the streets. And that’s not good for anybody that has to do business with the U.S.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2020.

Why this Trump-Biden showdown has our Canadian hearts racing



Let’s face it: As the clock ticks toward Election Day in the United States, Canadians are every bit as anxious as Americans over the outcome. We can’t stop dissecting and debating the issues, or doomscrolling through coverage of the showdown between U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

As former prime minister Pierre Trudeau put it in 1969, living next to the U.S. is akin to sleeping with an elephant: “No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast … one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

Five decades later, political observers say, that metaphor couldn’t be more apt.

“I think it holds true today,” said Stephen Azzi, director of Carleton University’s graduate program in political management, who likens Canadian attitudes toward the U.S. over the past four years to watching your best friend “make a terrible mistake and knowing there was no way to stop it.”

“Events in the United States are bound to have an effect on Canada. It’s not just Trump’s policies on trade or pipelines. It’s the impact of American political culture. If Americans learn to distrust their media, can Canadians be far behind? If American democracy dissolves, can Canadians hang on to democracy here?”

Opinion polling in Canada has consistently shown that Canadians favour putting Biden, the former vice-president, in the White House.

In a Leger survey of more than 1,500 Canadians in late September, 72 per cent of respondents said they would vote for Biden versus only 14 per cent for Trump. When asked how they would define the relationship between Trump’s administration and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 59 per cent of respondents said “bad.”

David Dozois, a psychology professor at Western University, says he suspects the U.S. presidential race has caused Canadians’ anxiety levels to rise, just like the global pandemic.


“What fuels anxiety is uncertainty and lack of control. We want predictability,” he said. “Certainly, the current U.S. administration has been anything but predictable. … Many Canadians do not have much confidence in Trump. Certainly, the relations between Canada and the U.S. in recent years have been more strained than, probably, in many, many years.”

Dozois was part of the research team behind a survey released this year by the charity Mental Health Research Canada that found Canadians’ anxiety levels had quadrupled in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When anxiety levels get that high, it triggers a physiological “fight or flight” response in the body, Dozois said. But because the threat from COVID-19 is unseen, it is harder for people to fight or run away from it.

The ongoing political tension and uncertainty emanating from the U.S. is similarly something we can neither fight nor run away from.

“I know when I watch the presidential debate, I can feel my cortisol levels increase and adrenalin kicking in,” Dozois said.

“The stakes are high for Canadians. When you perceive there to be a high threat, it’s very easy to have anxious thoughts. And sometimes our thoughts — when we’re anxious — get out of control. So, we start to have attentional biases toward things that are more threatening. We start to see more threats than there actually is. That’s true of COVID. I think it’s also true sometimes of political situations, where we say, ‘Oh no, we’re doomed.’”

Janni Aragon, a political science professor and director of the technology and society program at the University of Victoria, says she has seen U.S. “election anxiety” crop up among her own students.

“It feels like it is on our doorstep. I know that my Canadian students are on the edge of their seats watching this election with agitation,” she said.

“I am hearing from students via email, in our learning management system, social media, and even via text. There is election anxiety.”

Aragon said she’s had students approach her after the televised debates to say they won’t be attending class the next day because they felt “attacked.”

“This is mostly from the racialized women, who feel that the tenor of the debate is personal and the increase in racialized sexism hurts their mental health. (I understand this. I’m Latina),” she wrote in an email.

“I am also getting queries about good meditation apps or other tools to help them deal with election anxiety — not sleeping or overall anxiousness.”


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Any American election truly does affect Canada, says Veronica Kitchen, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo. Think about the large number of Canadians living in the U.S. or who have loved ones living south of the border.

“Traditionally, the Canadian prime minister is the first phone call to a new American president, and the first visit of a new president is to Canada. The disruption of all of this closeness is legitimately unsettling,” she said.

The Trump administration’s imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada with the justification being that they pose a potential national security threat has been similarly troubling, Kitchen said.

“Canadian prime ministers and American presidents have not always liked each other, and doing so is not a requirement for Canadian-American relations running smoothly, but the animosity between Trudeau and Trump is a stark contrast to the friendship between Trudeau and (Barack) Obama.”=

Many countries turn to Canada to explain our neighbour — its twitches and its grunts — and yet Canada foolishly doesn’t put enough attention into studying the U.S., says Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, which publishes policy papers and commentary on this country’s place in the world.

“More than any other nation — our security and defence depend on the U.S. shield and our economy depends on U.S. trade and investment,” he said.

Robertson says Trump’s ongoing attempts to cast doubts about the legitimacy of the election worry him.

But he says he is encouraged by the fact more than 95 million Americans have voted already. He also finds comfort in the “folk wisdom” of Sam Rayburn, the longest-serving U.S. speaker from Texas.

“Amongst his pithy sayings was that Americans will elect a jackass once, but seldom twice,” he said. “I hope that holds true.”

Asked if he can recall a moment when Canadians looked upon their southern neighbours with such disfavour, Azzi suggests the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“A significant number of Canadians were against the war and were troubled to see Americans lunge in without seeming to think through what they were doing,” he said.


“Canadians are deeply troubled when Americans betray the values common to both countries. These situations are particularly difficult because we know that Americans aren’t interested in what we have to say.”