In The Media

Trump wins U.S. presidency, political Ottawa shocked, he's a 'wild card, an unknown'

by Laura Ryckewaert et al. (feat. Colin Robertson)

The Hill Times
November 9, 2016

OTTAWA—After a long, divisive, and ugly election campaign, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was elected the next president of the United States in the early morning hours Wednesday, shortly after Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton telephoned Mr. Trump to concede defeat.

In Ottawa, federal politicians, political players, insiders, lobbyists, staffers, and media gathered at two venues to take in the historic results.

But both events attracted mostly Democratic supporters and, as the evening wore on, the crowds were increasingly deflated.

“A Trump presidency won’t be the apocalypse for Canada, we have a very strong relationship with the U.S. and I think it will continue like that,” said Sam Lafontaine, an Earnscliffe research assistant, who was one of the few actual spectators who stuck around at the Château Laurier Hotel at around 11:30 p.m., where the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa and the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada hosted a big, invite-only U.S. election-viewing party. 

As the crowd thinned out late Tuesday night at the Chateau’s ballroom, people were “surprised, shocked, even maybe a little scared by the idea,” as Mr. Lafontaine put it, however, adding that after a cooling off period, it could be a good idea for Mr. Trump to make his first official visit to Canada where he is seen as having a potential “huge impact” on business relations and trade.

“I think the fact that the room cleared out earlier than expected speaks to the fact that people expected or hoped Hillary Clinton to clinch this earlier,” Environics’ Greg MacEachern told The Hill Times just before 11 p.m.

“We might become a bit standoffish. There are a lot of American businesses that do business in Canada and they might be the ones that have to deliver the information to a Trump administration about how important we are,” said Mr. MacEachern who’s a longtime Liberal TV pundit.

Mr. MacEachern said he thinks Canadians have and likely will continue to reject the kind of politics, rhetoric, and divisiveness in the U.S. election, but will obviously work together. 

“A lot of people are going to be waiting for him to provide the professionalism that taking over administrations requires. You have a platform, hopefully, you have a cabinet, hopefully. … It’s like when the dog chases the car, what does the dog do when it catches the car?” Mr. MacEachern said, who showed The Hill Times texts messages he was receiving, including one from a friend in the U.S. who couldn’t watch the results anymore. “What is happening?” another friend texted as Mr. Trump was ahead of Ms. Clinton.

As the results continued to stream in, U.S. stocks global markets plunged over the uncertainty. Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.), who was among the attendees at the party Tuesday evening, left early as reporters in the room attempted to get his comments.

CBC’s Chris Hall, who was reporting on the evening, said he noticed as the results came in, the “pro-Clinton” crowd’s nervousness and sensed that the outcome was headed in a way they hadn’t expected. He said that “there was something going on in the United States that they really didn’t understand or hadn’t fully tapped into here in Canada.”

As a national affairs journalist, Mr. Hall said political reporting in Canada will change under a Trump presidency. “From a Canadian-American standpoint, Donald Trump presents kind of a wild-card, an unknown,” said Mr. Hall.

While the event began with a boisterous start full of nervous energy and excitement, as the evening wore on, the room continued to thin out as more swing states went to Mr. Trump.

There were some audible gasps as Mr. Trump was projected to win the states of Ohio and Florida. One Texan businessman sporting a Republican button, but who declined to speak on the record, said the results weren’t surprising to those who don’t believe media polls.

A number of lobbyists in the room told The Hill Times they were there to soak it all in, many to do media hits, and would be taking the news and analysis to their clients on Wednesday.

About an hour after the first set of polls closed, U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman welcomed guests and reassured anxious guests that, regardless of the outcome, Canadian and American relations would prevail.

Among the Hillites in the room were Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre, Ont.), who brought her daughter and her press secretary Caitlin Workman; Mr. Morneau, and his director of communications Daniel Lauzon; and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi’s director of communications Kate Monfette.

There was also a healthy showing of PMO staffers, including the prime minister’s director of research and advertising Dan Arnold and communications adviser Olivier Duchesneau.

Also spotted were National Post Ottawa bureau chief John Ivison and his wife, diplomat Dana Cryderman, and Rona Ambrose’s chief of staff Garry Keller.

Media covering the event included the CBC’s Katie Simpson; Maclean’s John Geddes; The Huffington Post Canada’s Althia Raj and Catherine Lévesque; CTV’s Don Martin; Rogers’ Cormac McSweeney; and The Canadian Press’ Mike Blanchfield. Other media there, mingling and not filing, included Reuters David Ljunggren; The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Vieira; The Toronto Star’s Paul Wells; and CBC’s Elizabeth Thompson.

Lobbyists there included the Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association’s Cheryl Fougere; Shaw’s Jim Patrick; RBC’s George Wamala; Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr’s ministerial staffer Rob Rosenthal; Earnscliffe’s Velma McColl; Patrick Kennedy and Andre Albinati.

Other notable Ottawans in the room included restaurateur Stephen Beckta, Ottawa Redblacks player Henry Burris, and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

Just down Sussex Drive, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) watched the results roll in from his temporary official residence, the Rideau Cottage on the grounds of Governor General David Johnston’s Rideau Hall residence, the PMO said.

Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose (Sturgeon River-Parkland, Alta.) watched the U.S. election with her family in Calgary, while outgoing NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, Que.) watched it from his home in Montreal with his wife, Catherine, and Bloc Québécois leader Rheal Fortin (Rivière-du-Nord, Que.) watched alongside family and friends in St-Jérôme, Que. in his riding.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.)—who was born in the U.S., but renounced her citizenship years ago—was otherwise occupied for much of the night hosting a townhall in her riding on changing measures introduced by the Conservative government’s Anti-Terrorism Act, Bill C-51.

Mr. Heyman told The Hill Times that he’s spent the last two elections watching results come in with the U.S. President Barack Obama. “It’s a very different feeling to be here in Ottawa watching this on television,” he said, something that is compounded by his inability to express support for any one candidate, as he is bound by law and custom to refrain from doing so.

“I definitely have to keep it neutral,” he said.

Mr. Heyman said U.S. embassies and consulates across the country, from Halifax to Vancouver, were hosting election night viewing parties like this one.

He said the viewing parties serve as educational tools for the communities they serve. Even in Canada, he said, “once we sit down and start talking about the electoral college … people are like, ‘Woah woah.'”

Colin Robertson, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute who specializes in Canada-U.S. elections, made an appearance, but ducked out before the majority of the results were in.

He told The Hill Times that the most important moments in this election were Ms. Clinton’s fall at the 9/11 ceremony where she was “seen to be vulnerable,” and the Access Hollywood hot mic tape, where Mr. Trump’s infamous words, “grab her by the pussy,” which set him back in the polls.

Astrid Pregel, who has been posted as a Canadian diplomat to Washington twice in her career, flew from Toronto for the evening to attend the ambassador’s event. She was heading back to Toronto this morning.

For her, she said Ms. Clinton is an “icon for my era.” She said she remembers watching Ms. Clinton stand in Beijing, China, and say, “women’s rights are human rights.” That was big for the time, she said, and she should know. Ms. Pregel herself was the first woman to handle the file of commercial relations between the U.S. and Canada. She spoke to The Hill Times early on in the evening, and said she couldn’t imagine Ms. Clinton losing.

Canada’s new Chief of Protocol Roy Norton stuck around for the early part of the evening. He admitted to being a “bonafide junkie of U.S. politics,” and said Mr. Heyman invited him to the function knowing as much. Mr. Norton recently returned from a posting as Canada’s consul general in Chicago, where Mr. Heyman is originally from.

At about 11 p.m. last night, the mood was very subdued, the crowd was sparse, and the only people left were either on their phones or watching the results.

At 11:40 p.m., the election still hadn’t been called. “Thank you, troopers,” said a more subdued Mr. Heyman as he began his closing remarks. He reiterated the importance of the Canada-U.S. relations, saying regardless of the outcome, the countries will remain “the best of friends,” but he was talking to a near empty room.

Meanwhile, over at the Real Sports Bar and Grill in Ottawa’s ByWard Market, there were roughly 300 lobbyists, departmental and ministerial staffers, and other politicos watching the results at a fête put on by the Government Relations Institute with Canada in partnership with Equal Voice.

Attendees included lobbyists from Edelman, Chris McCluskey from Environics, Dan Mader from National, Huw Williams from Impact Public Affairs, Liberal candidate for Ottawa-Vanier, Ont. Nathalie Des Rosiers, Will Dubreuil from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Geoff Smith and others from the Canadian Electricity Association, and lobbyists from the Canadian Railway Association (an event co-sponsor), among others. Plenty of media were in the room as well, with much of the iPolitics newsroom showing up (a main event sponsor), including Susan Delacourt and a CBC camera crew capturing reactions in the room. Equal Voice members also came out in force, including co-chair Raylene Lang-Dion and national spokesperson Nancy Peckford.

By 10 p.m., the first few attendees began to leave; some for other election night viewing gatherings, including at Brixton’s Pub on Sparks Street, but with high hopes still left for results in Ohio and Florida—which had historically reflected the ultimate presidential winner. As results continued to trickle in, cheers for electoral votes to Ms. Clinton grew increasingly louder, in defiant enthusiasm of a continuing lead by Mr. Trump.

All eyes were glued to the large screens lining the bar on the main level, showing CNN’s news feed, with many slumping in their seats and turning to their phones. With Mr. Trump holding a lead, the CNN news banner indicated a drastic market plunge.

An hour later, the hopeful optimism disappeared, with the room continuing to empty as attendees called it a night and those who remained continued to watch results roll in with a sense of disbelief. When Florida was called for Mr. Trump, a loud “boo” rang out from the bar. By midnight, with the room nearly cleared.

“No doubt it’s a massive missed opportunity for the United States and clearly a majority of the electorate, or parts of the electorate, were not ready for a female president unfortunately at this time,” said Ms. Peckford. “We had been encouraged by some of the earlier results but we’ve always known that this campaign has been challenging and that it’s been fraught with sexism and misogyny, not just from Trump but from thousands of voters and that’s been a palpable theme of this election campaign.”

“Certainly being female was a major factor. Was it the only factor? No. But was it a major variable for her? There was no question,” she said, adding the room seemed “deflated” by the results.

At just past midnight, Mr. Dubreuil said the Trump win was “quite surprising” and his sense from the room was that most were “taken aback” by the result. While he said plans have been laid for the possibility of a Trump win, he said he didn’t think “anyone was really expecting it to actually to come true.”

“We’ll have to adapt some of our tactics at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Our priority will be to make sure that we can maintain everything that we’ve gained on the trade file in the past few decades. We know that Trump has mentioned that he would rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement, this is a huge concern it would cause massive job losses on both sides of the border, which is something that we want to avoid at all costs,” he said.

Already, a post-election briefing call is planned with some Chamber members, who will be briefed “very closely” on the anticipated impact of Mr. Trump’s win, he said.

Meanwhile, the tone and unprecedented turn of the race—which most agree marked a new low in American political discourse and was called a “dumpster fire” and a “horrifying glimpse at Satan’s Pinterest board,” among other things, by Last Week Tonight host John Oliver—captured global attention.

But, despite the heightened attention, the result nonetheless left many in shock.

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