As Americans vote, Trudeau says Canada ‘extremely lucky’ COVID-19 has not been politicized as it has been in the U.S.

OTTAWA––Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lamented Tuesday how COVID-19 has been politicized in the United States, as Americans decide whether to replace a president who confronted Canada on trade and shook the international order the Liberal government has tried to defend.

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill Tuesday, Trudeau said he will be watching the results of the U.S. vote but recognized the possibility — there are millions of mailed-in ballots and potential delays –– that the winner won’t be clear by the end of the night.

Asked about comments he made in a morning radio interview about the American election’s impact on the fight against COVID-19, Trudeau said it is unfortunate how the virus became a political issue south of the border and predicted this will have an impact on Tuesday’s vote.

Republican President Donald Trump has routinely attacked Democratic Party governors for imposing lockdowns to slow the deadly virus, while his Democratic challenger Joe Biden has argued Trump’s failure to prevent more than 200,000 American deaths should disqualify him from re-election.

“We are extremely lucky in Canada that all different orders of government, and for the most political parties, have worked together to be there to support Canadians, to support our scientists and our front-line health workers and to work in a coordinated way,” he said.

“In the United States, we saw that there was significant political debate around how to engage best with COVID-19, and, obviously, that is something that is at play in this election.”

Trudeau also defended his government’s handling of trade spats and negotiations with the Republican Donald Trump administration over the past four years, and said Canada can continue to work with whoever wins Tuesday’s election in the U.S.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who dealt closely with American officials during those negotiations, added that Canada has demonstrated how it can work with any American administration and that it will continue to do so.

Asked about her message to Canadians in the U.S. who might be concerned about instability after the vote, Freeland said she wants to “assure Canadians today that our government is absolutely ready and we have thoughtfully prepared for all eventualities.

“It’s a reality for Canada that every Canadian government needs to be a specialist in working with the United States, and that has certainly applied to our government,” she said.

“We absolutely respect the choice the American people are making today, and we will be ready to work effectively with whomever they choose.”

Speaking earlier, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole also stuck to diplomatic language when pressed repeatedly for his thoughts on the prospect of an uncertain result and who he would like to see in the White House. He said Canada will “always” be a strong ally of the United States and that, as prime minister, who would work with either Trump or Biden.

“It’s a question of respect for our allies,” O’Toole said in French. “It’s a vote for Americans, not Canadians.”

Other Canadian political leaders have been more forthcoming about their hopes for the election. On Monday, Bloc Québécois Leader, Yves-François Blanchet, said he wants Trump to lose “so clearly that any attempt to challenge the result would be in utterly in vain.”

Trump has repeatedly questioned the fairness of the U.S. election process and refuses to say whether he would concede defeat to Biden.

“It’s not only the United States or Quebec or Canada that would fare better if this man were to leave the Oval Office,” Blanchet continued, “it’s the whole planet.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also called on Americans to vote out Trump on Tuesday, posting on Twitter that the U.S. president has caged migrant children entering the country, “fanned the flames of hatred and division” and failed to prevent 230,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.

“Trump makes the world a more dangerous place for all of us and I hope to see him lose,” said the post on Singh’s account.

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The current U.S. administration has preoccupied the Trudeau government since Trump was sworn in as president in January 2017. Trump was elected while denouncing the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico as the “worst trade deal ever made,” prompting a high-stakes renegotiation that resulted in a new deal last year.

Trump’s government has also confronted Canada, as well as countries in Europe, with tariffs on steel and aluminum sold to the U.S., most recently this summer, when Ottawa vowed to retaliate before the Americans backed off.

The trade tensions memorably flared in 2018, when Canada hosted a G7 summit in Quebec. Trudeau concluded the summit by stating at a press conference that Canada would not get pushed around on trade matters by the U.S.

That prompted Trump to denounce Trudeau in a social media post, in which he called the prime minister “very dishonest and weak.”

While Trump has questioned the international trade regime established by the U.S. and like-minded countries after the Second World War, the Trudeau government in Ottawa has tried to defend it.

In an address to Parliament in 2017, Freeland, then Canada’s foreign affairs minister, said Canada, as a middle power, has a “huge interest” in defending a system of trade based on rules even if the U.S. no longer favours it.

“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course. For Canada, that course must be the renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the post-war multilateral order,” she said in a widely-quoted part of the speech.

One issue Canada could have to confront after the election is the fate of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Trudeau both support. While Trump approved the project and allowed construction on the pipeline to begin, Biden has vowed cancel it.

In a statement Tuesday, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Ottawa said the two countries will remain close regardless of what happens after votes are counted.

“I am confident that, no matter the election result, our close cooperation on important issues will continue,” said the statement by Katherine Brucker.

“Our two nations will remain engaged neighbours, prosperous partners and stalwart allies.”

TORONTO STAR