A right-wing protester armed with an AR-15 style rifle looks at Black Lives Matter counter-protesters who are across the street in front of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore., on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. Canadians are watching in fear today as their American neighbours vote in earnest, capping a campaign marked by rising voter intimidation, threats of postelection violence, and the potential breakdown of democracy itself. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Andrew Selsky

A right-wing protester armed with an AR-15 style rifle looks at Black Lives Matter counter-protesters who are across the street in front of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore., on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. Canadians are watching in fear today as their American neighbours vote in earnest, capping a campaign marked by rising voter intimidation, threats of postelection violence, and the potential breakdown of democracy itself. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Andrew Selsky

‘Keep calm, consult with the allies:’ Canadian political analysts on U.S. presidential results

‘It’s really encouraging that a lot of people are out voting.’

Democrat Joe Biden’s stronger than expected early showing in states such as a Texas and Ohio wasn’t enough for Canadian political observers to see a decisive path to the White House for President Donald Trump’s challenger.

“It’s the early vote and Democrats voted disproportionately in the early vote, so it’s pretty hard to read,” said Perrin Beatty, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

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 pulled ahead in 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.

Biden was performing better than expected in Republican strongholds such as Texas and Ohio. Biden’s strong showing in Ohio was significant because it represented a breakthrough in the Rust Belt that Trump dominated in 2016. Biden also leapt out to an early lead in Pennsylvania but the final tally is not expected there until later in the week.

Feigenbaum said Trump could be in trouble if Biden held those leads.

“It’s 18 votes, right. So Ohio, and Pennsylvania. between them are 38 votes. And in 2016, he (Trump) got both of them. So that could be a bit of an issue if he loses both of them this time.”

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.”

The struggle for Florida, with its 29 votes in the electoral college, was closely watched. Trump won the state in 2016 and Biden was behind in the key county of Miami-Dade.

“Criticism that Biden didn’t have enough boots on ground to get out the vote in Miami-Dade may be valid,” said Robertson.

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.”

Long before the polls closed Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government was “absolutely ready” for whomever won.

“We have thoughtfully prepared for all eventualities and I am really confident that we have a plan no matter what happens,” she said.

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 on election night 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 Beatty.

“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.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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