What will Canada do?
It’s late November 2020. After declaring himself the victor on election night, it is becoming clear as the results of mail-in ballots are counted that Donald Trump has, in fact, lost the Electoral College and the election.
As promised, Trump is refusing to accept those results. Rigged election. Fake news. Totally unfair. Etc.
And also as promised, Trump has already begun ramping up his cabal of misanthropic mouth-breathers to come to his rescue. Just as his lawyers are arguing against every possible bit of minutiae in front of his recently stacked Supreme Court, hoards of what can only reasonably be described as barbarians, Trump’s MAGA Militia are starting to show up in deep red states, threatening to march on the legislatures and governors’ mansions in neighbouring swing states.
They’re stated goal is to ensure a “fair count” of mail-in ballots but it is clear that they intend to threaten, intimidate and quite possibly harm the state officials whose job it is to certify election results unless their man wins.
In Washington anarchy reigns: the Biden/Harris team are asking for calm while the process works its way through various courts, the Electoral College and ultimately Congress. Trump is rage-Tweeting 50x/day – interspersed with barely lucid calls in to Fox and Friends – that his supporters have to rise up and save America from a socialist coup.
Attorney General Bill Barr has turned the once-venerable DoJ into a Trump-backing law firm. Other organs of state power are paralysed with uncertainty as political masters and professional public servants engage in a stand-off.
The Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff – the symbols and notional guardians of American democracy – are just as divided as the rest of the country. While no senior commanders are prepared to order troops to join the Trump Militias, the willingness of serving line officers to follow orders to disburse those militias is far from certain.
As December drags on, things get worse. Violent confrontations between MAGA Militias and peaceful protestors start to take place in American cities (as some predicted).
Plots to kidnap senior state officials – like the one against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer that just recently foiled by the FBI – are popping up across swing states. The FBI – which reports to AG Barr and the DoJ – is unsurprisingly responsive to these threats. State law and local enforcement see these (largely Democratic) officials as having betrayed them over issues like #BlackLivesMatter and campaigns to Defund the Police. So they’re no help either.
In short, America is teetering on anarchy, violence in imminent and the possibility of the country’s institutions collapsing is more real than at any time since the 1850s.
Many Canadians reading this assessment will instantly dismiss the foregoing as hysterical, apoplectic, dystopian fiction. And man, do I hope those folks are right.
But what if they’re not? What if the worst happens? What would Canada actually do about such a dire situation on its border?
Would we choose sides? Would we have a choice? What would be the consequences of any choice we did make?
While there is precious little sign from official Ottawa that any thought has been given to how Canada would respond to the collapse of our-once great neighbour, folks who know are certainly starting to ask questions.
Talking to folks both formerly and currently in Canada’s national intelligence and defense community is not a source of comfort these days. Folks who know are worried. They understand that Canada simply does not have plans for the eventualities described here. And they also know that the best plans could not be generated quickly.
While far from an inexhaustible list, the following are three scenarios that – in the event of the chaos above descending on the U.S. – would range from likely to certain. At a bare minimum, the Government of Canada ought to have plans on how to respond to each of these scenarios – and far more – in the can and ready to go before November 3rd. To not do so would be a serious dereliction on the part of the PM and his cabinet:
Scenario 1 – Recognition
What happens: The election has happened. Enough ballots are counted and sometime in November, it is clear that Biden has enough votes in the Electoral College that he will be President. But Trump is still fighting – in the courts and, increasingly, in the streets. Trump will remain President for two more months and has threatened that any country that recognizes Biden as President-elect will be punished with sanctions, tariffs, trade embargoes, etc. Seasonal industries (i.e., Christmas tree sales, the lobster industry, oil exports by pipeline, etc.) that depend on U.S. markets for their goods over the holidays could be targeted costing Canadians millions of dollars.
Questions for Canada: Does PM Trudeau – like all of his predecessors – congratulate Biden on his victory, risking Trump’s wrath, or remain silent and thereby implicitly support Trump’s efforts to stay in power? Do Canadian officials actively work to support Trump? Do they actively work to support Biden? Does Trudeau pursue a deal with Biden to offset or undo any harm done to Canadian industries by Trump on his way out the door?
Trump’s petulant narcissism coupled with his overriding need to win so that he can avoid prosecution will entirely drive his behaviour in this dangerous period. Underestimating the collateral damage he will be willing to inflict along the way would be foolish.
Scenario 2 – The Defectors
What Happens: Senior state officials (a Governor, Secretary of State and AG) from a border state with a close result but a definitive win for Biden are being threatened (e.g., Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota). Trump Militias have formed and are engaging in violence. The officials decide that for their safety, they and their families are leaving the state. They show up at the border and enter Canada. They’re not stopped because, why would they be? But once in Canada they start sending messages via social media as to where they are and that they are still providing instructions to officials and exercising their executive authority remotely. Trump immediately declares them traitors (or worse) and Barr issues some sort of extradition documents for their forcible return. Groups of MAGA Militia members are showing up at border crossings look to come in and make “citizens arrests” of the officials and bring them back
Questions for Canada: Do we honour the extradition request? Do we deny it outright or do we slow-roll the process? If U.S. agents showed up at the border looking for the officials, would we let them in? If they entered Canada without permission would we consider that an act of war? Would the GoC say so ahead of time? How would we carry through on the threat once made? Would border guards be reinforced with RCMP or CAF members? Would they return fire on MAGA Militia members if fired upon? What about uniformed soldiers? What would be the rules of engagement?
Considering the ongoing disputes with China over honouring a very similar request from the U.S. for one of their citizens and the ongoing implications for Canadian sovereignty posed by these questions, the answers are far from trivial.
Scenario 3 – The Global Play
What happens: A terrorist attack; an invasion of Ukraine or Poland; a massive cyber attack on North American merchants during the Christmas shopping season – who knows. But something happens that would normally require a vigorous response by Western allies (either via NATO, the UN or some ad hoc partnership). There is a strong suspicion by various Five Eyes partners that the incident is almost certainly a false flag operation cooked up by Trump and Russia for the purpose of justifying Trump remaining in office – possibly under some sort of emergency powers/martial law.
Questions for Canada: Do we play along on the chance intel is incorrect? Do we slow roll a decision? Do we quietly inform the Trump admin and Biden transition team that we know what’s going on and leave it to them to sort out? Or do we release the intel (in agreement with partners or on our own) and call Trump out publicly?
Obviously even writing some of these can feel alarmist. But these are just the tip of the iceberg and given how clear Trump has made it that he will not be handing over power peacefully and the lengths to which he and his cabal have gone already in denouncing, demonizing and disregarding democratic institutions and norms, it would be foolish and naive for the Government of Canada to not start considering these possibilities and dozens more.
At the best of times, living next to an elephant has come with certain risks of spillover. But we are not in normal times and miles away from the best of times. To not brace for this coming tidal wave would be the worst kind of naïveté.