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

For Leela Harrop, the recent death of her brother Raju Tiwari pushed her to sign up for the vaccine. Photo supplied
Comox woman on fence about vaccine prompted by brother’s death

Leela Harrop says she did have issues with signing up online this past week

Most categories of crime held steady from year to year in Cumberland. File photo
Cumberland crime numbers hold steady year to year

A few categories had notable changes but many were similar to 2019

The colourful Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly has been reintroduced on Hornby Island, BC. Photo courtesy the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project.
Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project releases more caterpillars on Hornby Island

Chris Junck Special to Black Press The number of Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies… Continue reading

Paper Excellence took over Catalyst Paper operations in B.C. in 2018. (Paper Excellence photo)
The Baynes Sound Connector leaves Denman Island en route to Buckley Bay. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Baynes Sound Connector undergoing upgrades

The MV Quinitsa is providing service between Buckley Bay and Denman Island

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Most Read