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

Cathy Armstrong, executive director of the Land Conservancy, Paul Nursey CEO of Destination Greater Victoria and Saanich Coun. Susan Brice helped to kick off the annual Greater Victoria Flower Count at Abkhazi Garden Monday. This year, the flower count is less about rubbing the region’s weather in the rest of Canada’ faces, and more about extending a bouquet of compassion and love. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
2021 Greater Victoria Flower Count sows seeds of compassion

Friendly flower count competition runs from March 3 to 10

The Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre has reopened with 45 shelter spots for people experiencing homelessness in Victoria. (Courtesy of Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre)
Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre shelter in Victoria reopens with spots for 45 people

Arena is an interim step until long-term housing is found

(Black Press Media file photo)
A disruptive rider was forced to leave a BC Transit bus on Monday morning. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Greater Victoria students lose bid for transit commission voting seat

Commission members took issue over students not being elected officials

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 80+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Police have identified the vehicle involved in the Feb. 14 hit-and-run in Chemainus and are continuing to investigate. (Black Press Media files)
Police seize and identify suspect vehicle in hit-and-run

Investigation into death expected to be lengthy and involved

(Black Press file photo)
Child in critical condition, homicide investigators probe incident near Agassiz

The child was transported to hospital but is not expected to survive

Sewage plant in Lower Mainland, operated by Metro Vancouver. (Metro Vancouver screenshot)
‘Poop tracker’ launches as researchers test Lower Mainland sewage water for COVID-19

‘Studying the virus in wastewater allows researchers to look at an entire population…’

This poster, spreading misinformation regarding COVID-19 restrictions, has been popping up in communities across Vancouver Island.
UPDATED: Poster popping up in Island communities falsely claiming COVID restrictions are over

Unattributed poster claims COVID restrictions ended March 1; Island Health responds

Most Read