Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made it clear Monday that he has no regrets about congratulating Joe Biden on his victory in the United States presidential election, even if the current White House occupant refuses to concede and seeks to challenge the results in the courts.
“We have confidence in the American electoral process as it has unfolded,” Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa when asked by a reporter if he spoke too soon about Democratic candidate Biden having defeated Republican President Donald Trump.
“I was pleased to congratulate president-elect Biden on the weekend. We will continue to work with the current American administration until Jan. 20, after which we will work with the new administration.”
Watch: Highlights from Joe Biden’s victory speech
Trudeau noted that Biden will be the third U.S. president with whom he will work. “We’ve demonstrated an ability to stand up and defend Canadian interests throughout, which we will do as we move forward,” he said.
The prime minister publicly congratulated Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris on Saturday, both with a tweet and official statement, less than an hour after the Democrat was declared by major TV networks and analysts to have won the key swing state of Pennsylvania. The victory gave Biden enough to clear the threshold of 270 electoral college votes needed to unseat Trump.
While many world leaders also congratulated Biden this weekend, from United Kingdom prime minister Boris Johnson to German chancellor Angela Merkel, some others — such as Brazil’s controversial president Jair Bolsonaro — have held off.
So has the leader of American’s southern neighbour. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at a new conference Saturday he would not congratulate a winner in the U.S. race until “all the legal matters have been resolved,” Reuters reported. “I can’t congratulate one candidate or the other. I want to wait until the electoral process is over,” López Obrador said.
But Trudeau told reporters Monday it was “important to remind people of the strength of American democratic systems and the institutions designed to evaluate and analyze election results, tabulate election results.” He pledged to continue to demonstrate “confidence” in how the processes of the U.S. election played out.
Trump has falsely claimed voter fraud
Trump has baselessly claimed he lost because of widespread voter fraud, a strategy he telegraphed in the weeks leading up to last Tuesday’s vote by repeatedly casting doubt on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots. At the first, widely-panned presidential debate between Trump and Biden in September, the incumbent pre-emptively tried to frame the vote as rigged and wouldn’t commit to the peaceful transfer of power.
The prime minister would not weigh in on Trump’s refusal to concede to Biden, nor say if he has reached out to the president over the issue.
“My message to every American president is that I will work to defend Canadian interests. That’s my job,” he said. “My job is to make sure that we’re working well with the current administration and that we will work with the incoming administration. That’s what Canadians expect of me.”
The prime minister later tweeted that he spoke with Biden by phone.
Trudeau, who last month said he was hoping for a “smooth transition or a clear result” from the election, had said he would wait until the results were “sufficiently clear” before commenting publicly.
Peter Boehm, a former deputy minister and the prime minister’s personal representative during the G7 summit in 2018, told HuffPost Canada ahead of the vote that “most countries are going to wait” until the results are clear before congratulating a winner. That clarity would come once someone concedes, Boehm suggested at the time.
Roland Paris, a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa who served as a foreign policy adviser to Trudeau, told HuffPost via email that the prime minister made the right decision.
“It would have been strange for the Canadian prime minister not to congratulate the winner once the outcome became clear,” Paris said. “Countries such as Russia and Brazil that have not congratulated Biden are the outliers.”
Trudeau was not alone in having seen enough Saturday to publicly congratulate Biden and Harris. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who hopes to be Canada’s prime minister after the 2023 election if not sooner, tweeted Saturday that his party “will always work with the U.S. to advance our common values and close economic ties.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also posted separate tweets to individually congratulate both Biden and Harris, who made history as the first woman and person of colour to be elected as vice-president.
At the press conference in Ottawa Monday, Trudeau again congratulated president-elect Biden and Harris, saying he looked forward to working with them on “common challenges and opportunities” facing both countries.
The prime minister also said he wanted to reflect on the “historic milestone” Harris reached in the United States.
“For so many people in Canada and around the world, seeing a woman, a Black and South Asian American woman, elected as the next vice-president of the United States, is an inspiration and a reminder that everyone’s voice belongs in politics,” he said.
Trudeau expressed confidence that the incoming Biden administration will be a good partner to Canada, calling it a “welcome sign” that the president-elect has indicated that fighting climate change is a top priority.
“I think people around the world know how important it is to move forward on fighting climate change and ensuring economic growth and jobs for people as we transform our energy mix and our economies,” he said.
Trudeau also suggested that his government would be well-versed responding to possible protectionist moves by the Biden administrations after four years working with the Trump White House.
In addition to renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, the federal government fought back against “unjust” steel and aluminum tariffs “brought in by this current American president,” he said.
“The fundamental argument that we made every step of the way over the past four years, and we’ll continue to make into the future, is the fact that creating or imposing barriers on trade between Canada and the U.S. not only hurts Canada but also hurts workers and companies in the United States,” he said.
On Monday, Biden unveiled a 13-member COVID-19 task force and urged Americans to come together to defeat the virus.
“The election is over,” he said. “It’s time to put aside the partisanship and the rhetoric designed to demonize one another.”
With a file from Althia Raj