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Trudeau, EU leaders express faith in America and call for return to multilateralism

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the European Union's two top political leaders expressed faith in the American people Thursday ahead of a U.S. presidential election where the outcome will have major implications for global relations. 

Trudeau, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the European Union Council president all refrained — as is customary — from directly commenting on whether they'd like to see current U.S. President Donald Trump remain in office or his challenger, Democrat Joe Biden, take over. 

The choice is up to the American people, all said. 

But it was clear the three leaders are at least eager for a reset of strained relations to help them cope with the major challenges of the day, including climate change, growing isolationism and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Regardless of the outcomes, our responsibility is to be there to push for better opportunities for Canadians and a more peaceful, more stable global context," Trudeau said at the close of the meeting. 

"We will continue to work with whomever the Americans choose as their president to move forward in constructive ways."

The federal Liberals have said in recent weeks they are preparing for any eventual outcome for the election. There is a possibility the results will not be clear on Nov. 3 due to a large number of mail-in ballots, or end up being contested, as Trump has inferred he might. 

On Thursday, Trudeau was asked how that was factoring in to the government's plans and he referred to the 2000 presidential election in which the ultimate victor, George W. Bush, was declared a month after election day and a subsequent Supreme Court ruling.

"As we did then, we will follow along carefully without interfering or intervening in well established processes internal to the United States' democracy," he said.

Thursday's three-way video conference marked the first formal discussion the leaders have been able to hold since the changing of the guard of Europe's top political leadership late last year.

In a pandemic-free world, it would have been a formal summit, a follow up to last summer's two-day affair that Trudeau hosted with one of Von der Leyen and Michel's predecessors, Donald Tusk.

That gathering was marked by gushing displays of Canada-EU political fealty that saw Trudeau and Tusk position themselves as defenders of a world order that has been increasingly under attack from U.S. President Donald Trump.

Now, in the COVID-19 world, Trudeau, Von der Leyen and Michel sent a similar signal. 

"We are determined to fight the pandemic together as a global community in line with our values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law," Michel said.

The goal is twofold, he said: protect the health of citizens and ensure an innovative, sustainable and inclusive economic recovery. 

"There is one way to do this: through solidarity, co-operation and multilateralism. The work of the G7, the G20 and the United Nations are crucial to these efforts." 

The talks affirmed strong support for the United Nations World Health Organization, which Trump has derided as a being a puppet of China because he says it downplayed the severity of the early outbreak of COVID-19.

On trade, the group discussed the Canadian-led efforts to reform the World Trade Organization, a process known as the Ottawa Group, as well as the ongoing implementation of the Canada-E. U. trade deal known as CETA. 

With talks now having resumed on the United Kingdom's exit from the EU, Trudeau said Thursday he is hopeful about talks around the transition for Canada-U. K. relations as well. 

The three leaders also discussed the rising provocations by China.

At the EU's recent summit with China, the bloc highlighted the plight of imprisoned Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. They were arrested nearly two years ago in retaliation for Canada's arrest of Chinese high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition order.

Canada welcomed the EU support for the release of the “two Michaels,” which came in the final communique of its summit with China. The EU has joined dozens of other countries in supporting Canada's efforts in publicly calling for their release, a campaign that has angered China.

Trudeau reinforced his gratitude on Thursday, saying an important element of the talks was the need to defend the shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. 

"Now more than ever, we must push back against authoritarianism and isolationism while securing democratic norms," he said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2020.

Mike Blanchfield and Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press




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