Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Workers at the Miami-Dade County Election Department move racks of vote-by-mail ballots onto a U.S. Post Office truck to be delivered to voters on Oct. 1, 2020, in Doral, Fla.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have to navigate a nightmare: a contested U.S. election in which Donald Trump claims he has been re-elected president, even though former vice-president Joe Biden might have won.

In that dangerous scenario, allies and mischief-makers could struggle to limit or maximize the chaos – with Canada’s future as well as the future of the world order at stake.

The Doomsday Scenario, let’s call it, emerged this week after Mr. Trump’s incendiary debate performance, in which he refused to promise he would accept the result of the Nov. 3 election because “it’s a rigged election,” tainted by what he claimed, without foundation, are corrupted mail-in ballots. “This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” he accused.

Story continues below advertisement

Because there are such a large of number mail-in ballots expected this year – the pandemic has many Americans reluctant to wait in long lines to vote – it’s very possible that election night could show no clear winner, with millions of ballots still to be counted.

Nonetheless, in the Doomsday Scenario Mr. Trump declares himself the winner, claiming many votes for Democrats were somehow rigged.

Election observers expect enthusiastic Trump supporters, who are less concerned by COVID-19 and highly motivated to vote, will cast their ballots in person, with Democrats more inclined to mail in their ballots. For that reason, the Trump team may seek court injunctions to freeze the counting of the ballots, claiming officials followed improper procedures.

The overarching question for Canada, for every world leader, then becomes: When do I pick up the phone and congratulate the winner? And which one?

“One of the contingencies I fear is that there is a contested election,” said Thomas Juneau, assistant professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. "Trump claims victory, Biden is more likely to be a bit more cautious, but who knows, and then Trump tells Trudeau: If you don’t recognize me, I will whack you, I will penalize you, I will close the border to whatever trade still goes on, or something like that.

“From the Canadian perspective, there’s an extremely delicate balancing act.”

Things could get even more delicate. Russian President Vladimir Putin might not hesitate at all. He might pick up the phone Nov. 4 to congratulate Mr. Trump, declaring that the Russian Federation recognizes him as the duly re-elected president. Other authoritarian leaders – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte – could join him.

Story continues below advertisement

What would America’s allies do? Mr. Trudeau would not want to act without first consulting the non-U.S. members of the Five Eyes intelligence community: Britain, Australia and New Zealand, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, members of NATO, and Pacific allies Japan and South Korea. The goal would be to established a common approach to recognizing the winner.

European Union leaders would struggle to remain united, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and perhaps others in Eastern Europe inclined to join the authoritarians.

The worst of all worlds would involve political and judicial institutions struggling to settle on a duly-elected president, as demonstrators clash with increasing violence in the streets, and the global community splits into factions over which presidential claimant is legitimate.

America as Venezuela. America as Ukraine.

This is a possible scenario, not a likely one. More likely is that, on Nov. 3, or a few days or at worst a few weeks after it, either Mr. Biden will be the clear winner and begin the process of restoring America’s place in the world, or Mr. Trump will be the clear winner, and we will drag ourselves through four more years.

“The really dangerous scenarios still remain at a fairly low probability,” said Prof. Juneau, who notes that the close economic and military partnership between Canada and the United States remains largely intact after four years of Donald Trump. That may well be the case after eight years of Donald Trump as well.

Story continues below advertisement

The republic has weathered a lot: civil war, depression, world war, race riots, Vietnam, Watergate, 9/11, the financial crisis. The odds favour it surviving this election and transition as well.

But it is a very safe bet that in the Prime Minster’s Office and at Global Affairs, people are gaming out scenarios, and some of them aren’t pretty.

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies