From 50 years ago: What will Richard Nixon's presidency mean for Canada?

Fifty years ago, a closely-watched election was unfolding south of the border.

'The reaction to the special problems created by the choice of Mr. Nixon...is caution,' CBC reported

Knowlton Nash offers a preview of the 1968 U.S. presidential election. 0:59
Fifty years ago, a closely-watched election was unfolding south of the border.
Richard Nixon is seen in a 1969 file photo. He was first elected as president the year before. (The Associated Press)

But it wasn't a midterm election taking place on Nov. 5, 1968 — it was a full presidential election.

And ahead of Election Day, things looked very close between contenders Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon.

"The last-minute public opinion polls give Richard Nixon a very slight edge, but both Gallup and Harris polls say the election is going to be too close to predict a winner," the CBC's Knowlton Nash told viewers the night before the election.

Nash reminded viewers that Nixon had started out as "a sure winner" at the start of the campaign, but his Democratic rival had nearly caught up to him in the campaign's final days.

On Election Day, however, it would be Nixon, a Republican, who would be named president. (And he would be the 37th person to take the job, not the 36th as erroneously stated in the clip at the top of this page.)

A clear outcome

Nixon narrowly won the popular vote — with both he and his Democratic opponent each drawing more than 31 million votes. A third contender, George Wallace — the former and future Alabama governor — received nearly 10 million votes on the presidential ballot. 

Nixon, however, won the U.S. electoral college by much a wider margin, of 301-191, over Humphrey due to the distribution of his support.

In Ottawa, the clarity of the presidential outcome was viewed as a good thing, according to what CBC reported.

Ron Collister reports on Ottawa's reaction to Richard Nixon's election in the U.S. 1:53

"The immediate reaction in Ottawa is one of relief that its giant neighbour has been able to reach a decision — a clean-cut decision — on its new president," the CBC's Ron Collister told viewers.

"Weeks of uncertainty would have been bad for the United States and this would spilled over into Canada."

With a new president headed to the White House, however, there were many questions about what that would mean for Canada.

'A wait-and-see attitude'

"The reaction to the special problems created by the choice of Mr. Nixon, over Mr. Humphrey — who would have been preferred — is caution, a wait-and-see attitude," said Collister.

"As someone put it: 'We'll be living with him, we'll be working with him, let's see how we get along."

Richard Nixon, seen at left, would succeed Lyndon Johnson, seen at right, in the White House. (Charles Tasnadi/Associated Press)

Collister noted there were specific things to worry about with Nixon in power, given statements he had made during the campaign.

"Mr. Nixon could hurt Canada because he wants quotas against meat, steel and textiles," said Collister. "He wants countries to stop trading with Cuba and he singled out Canada."

And nearly a half-century before the future President Donald Trump was criticizing allies for their NATO spending, Nixon made his own views known on what they should be contributing.

"Mr. Nixon has sniped at allies who don't contribute enough to the NATO effort, at a time when Canada is reviewing its NATO role," said Collister.

'Close co-operation' hoped for

Canada, at the time, had a relatively new prime minister of its own: Pierre Trudeau, who was asked for his reaction to the victory of the president-elect.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau reacts to Richard Nixon being elected as U.S. president in 1968. 0:41

"It is the wish of the Government of Canada that the close co-operation which has so uniquely marked relations between our two countries should flourish and be strengthened," said Trudeau, reading off the congratulations he had sent to Nixon.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is seen speaking to U.S. President Richard Nixon during a visit to the White House in March of 1969. (The Associated Press)

"My colleagues and I look forward to working with your administration towards the achievement of the objectives and aspirations which Canadians share with their American friends and neighbours."

Both men would remain in power in their respective countries for the rest of Nixon's time in office.

They had a difficult relationship, as has been revealed in some of the taped recordings made in the president's office.

But Trudeau did offer support to Nixon in a telephone call, in the wake of the Watergate scandal that would eventually push the U.S. president from office.

In a newly released recording of a call between Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and President Richard Nixon, the U.S. leader says he'll survive the Watergate scandal. 2:05

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