Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, left, and Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Michael Kergin walk past a Christmas display on their way to a breakfast meeting with business leaders in Durham, N.C. on Monday Dec. 4, 2000. The last time a U.S. presidential election ended in uncertainty, the Canadian government adopted a policy of saying nothing until all the votes were counted and legal challenges resolved. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, left, and Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Michael Kergin walk past a Christmas display on their way to a breakfast meeting with business leaders in Durham, N.C. on Monday Dec. 4, 2000. The last time a U.S. presidential election ended in uncertainty, the Canadian government adopted a policy of saying nothing until all the votes were counted and legal challenges resolved. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Advisers during Bush-Gore cliffhanger urge Canadian silence on uncertain outcome

Experts agree the standoff between Trump and Biden leaves the U.S. in a much more precarious situation

The last time a U.S. presidential election ended in uncertainty, the Canadian government adopted a policy of saying nothing until all the votes were counted and legal challenges resolved.

And advisers to the government of the day say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is wise to adopt the same approach now, even though the circumstances surrounding the current cliffhanger are vastly different than those that prevailed in 2000.

Back then, the uncertainty hinged on the disputed outcome in a single state: Florida.

It took a month of recounts and legal challenges before Democrat Al Gore finally conceded defeat to George W. Bush.

During that time, the Canadian government led by Jean Chrétien, involved in its own election campaign, took a wait-and-see stance, allowing the American election process to play itself out without comment.

Michael Kergin, Canada’s ambassador to Washington at the time, says silence is even more golden now when any hint of favouring a particular outcome could only inflame an already volatile situation in a deeply polarized United States, where President Donald Trump is alleging election fraud.

“In a situation like that, I think discretion is even more important by the prime minister, to let the process run its course,” Kergin said in an interview Wednesday.

By mid-afternoon Wednesday, Trump had secured 214 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win, while former vice-president Joe Biden had 248, according to The Associated Press.

Results in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada and Alaska remained uncertain, with ballots still being counted.

Nevertheless, Trump declared himself the winner early Wednesday morning, denounced the continued counting of ballots as “fraud” and promised to take the matter all the way to the Supreme Court.

Trudeau declined to weigh in Wednesday, saying only that the Canadian government is “watching very carefully events unfold in the United States” and will continue defending Canadian interests as Americans decide their “next steps forward.”

Eddie Goldenberg, a top adviser to Chretien during the 2000 Bush-Gore contest, said that approach is “pretty smart.”

“My own view is that you allow the Americans to decide who’s winning before you decide who the winner is,” he said in an interview.

Even though Trump is casting doubt on the legitimacy of the American democratic process, Goldenberg said: “Is it really for us to comment on?

“I think we’d do better to let the Americans decide what the process is … We’re not going to send the army in. We’re not going to send the RCMP in. We have to sit and wait and watch.”

Goldenberg agreed with Kergin that the standoff between Trump and Biden leaves the U.S. in a much more precarious situation than the one faced 20 years ago.

Neither Gore nor Bush “was suggesting that the election had been stolen or rigged or whatever” and the Canadian government knew that eventually, after the recounts and legal challenges, that both sides would “respect the decision,” Goldenberg said.

Unlike now, he said, “We weren’t worried about violence in the streets, we weren’t worried about that type of polarization.”

During the current uncertainty, Goldenberg said everyone needs to “calm down, particularly when you’re outside the United States, because you’re not going to change the situation but you could make mistakes” that could hurt relations with the U.S. down the road.

Kergin said Trudeau’s response recognizes that the U.S. “is a democracy” and that to pronounce on the election result before all votes are counted “would be, in a way, not respecting another democratic country, which happens to be our largest trading partner.”

That position, Kergin acknowledged, includes an implicit repudiation of Trump, who is arguing that counting of mail-in ballots should be stopped.

“That’s right, you are, but you are, I think, in line with what you perceive as a democratic process as it’s established in the constitution. You don’t get into the question of what are legitimate ballots and what are illegitimate ballots.”

READ MORE: Biden needs 1 more battleground state to win the White House

READ MORE: Trump, supporters defiant, combative in face of escalating U.S. election dispute

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CanadaDonald TrumpJoe BidenUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kwalikum Secondary School. (SD69 photo)
Schools superintendent says protocols don’t change after COVID-19 exposure at Qualicum Beach high school

Elder: ‘We were assured by the Health Authority that the school is safe’

Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort general manager Paul Drummond, right, and SOS executive director Susanna Newton with some of the gifts left during the resort’s annual Toy Drive. (Peter McCully photo)
Tigh-Na-Mara Toy Drive in Parksville a rousing success

More than 1,200 toys, 16 bikes and $13K in cash/gift cards donated

Nurse Doreen Littlejohn takes a longterm approach in her outreach work with homelessness in Parksville Qualicum Beach, but says more needs to be done now. (Auren Ruvinsky photo)
‘Women face a much different experience on the street’: Parksville Qualicum Beach nurse

Littlejohn says community needs to be part of solution to homelessness

Parksville’s French Creek Harbour experienced a diesel spill on Nov. 23 after a barge and fishing vessel collided. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Coast Guard cleans up diesel spill in Parksville’s French Creek Harbour

Barge carrying fuel truck collides with fishing vessel

Qualicum Beach Memorial Golf Course. (File photo)
Qualicum Beach golf course notified restaurant patron tests positive for COVID-19

Staff to self-monitor until Nov. 28, can continue with daily duties

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. daily COVID-19 cases hits record 941 on Tuesday

Further restrictions on indoor exercise take effect

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Picture of two swans leaving the Cowichan estuary moments before one was shot out of the sky. (Submitted photo)
Petition to stop hunting in Cowichan estuary after swan shot

Hunters blame shooting on illegal poachers

Bob Higgins pulls the gate across on the elevator built inside his home. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Island man’s expertise earns international award with home-built elevator

Experience put to use in winning contest entry for furniture and home projects

Barrels pictured outside Oliver winery, Quinta Ferreira, in May. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B.C. Master of Wine reflects on industry’s teetering economic state

Pandemic, for some wine makers, has been a blessing in disguise. For others, not so much.

A fentanyl test strip is used at Vancouver Coastal Health in Vancouver, Tuesday, January, 21, 2020. The test strips will be made available to drug users to ensure that their drugs are safe and free of Fentanyl. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Drug overdoses lead to 5 deaths each day in October; drug toxicity continues to increase

COVID-19 crisis continues to exacerbate the overdose crisis

An employee of the Adventure Hotel was taken to hospital on Nov. 20 after she confronted a customer of Empire Coffee about not wearing a mask. File photo.
Nelson hotel employee suffers heart attack after being assaulted in anti-mask incident

An accountant at the Adventure Hotel is in hospital in Kelowna

Damien Smith, with father Thomas Smith, is “frozen” with joy as he watches a special message Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds recorded for Damien’s 9th birthday on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Contributed)
Shuswap boy celebrates 9th birthday with family, community and Ryan Reynolds

People from around the world send birthday cards showing young Canoe resident he’s not alone

Most Read