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Presidential debate important moment to demonstrate 'the way our democracy works': U.S. ambassador

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The U.S. Ambassador to Canada says Thursday's presidential debate between incumbent Democrat Joe Biden and his Republican rival former president Donald Trump will be “an important moment in demonstrating the way our democracy works.”

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, David Cohen emphasized to host Vassy Kapelos that while his role is apolitical so he cannot be perceived as being engaged in the presidential election, he’s “a big fan of debates.”

“I think debates are an opportunity for the public to be able to see both candidates, or all candidates, talking to the American public, where each other is present, and an opportunity for candidates and moderators to correct disinformation or misinformation that is articulated by either candidate,” Cohen said.

“I think all debates are important parts of the democratic process,” he added. “They're important parts of our free and fair election process.”

The debate, hosted by CNN with simulcast coverage on CTV News Channel, will make history as the first-ever debate between sitting and former presidents.

The head-to-head could also prove to be a defining moment in the race, where both candidates have little margin for error, especially in crucial swing states.

Meanwhile, amid fears of foreign meddling in the upcoming election, the ambassador called foreign interference “one of the most scary threats to democracy.”

U.S. intelligence agencies are watching closely, and say they are ready to alert the public if necessary.

Foreign interference and allegations of treason have also dominated debate on Parliament Hill in recent weeks, following a report by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, which concluded some MPs and senators have “wittingly or unwittingly” aided foreign actors.

In his interview, Cohen pointed to advancements in artificial intelligence as one of the factors making the risk of foreign interference “a very scary scene.”

When asked whether the U.S. administration is watching the debate on Parliament Hill around potential foreign agents, Cohen said the issue is “certainly of interest.”

Cohen in his interview also discussed the NATO defence-spending promise, saying “the United States’ position is very clear:” Canada needs to spend more, but our closest ally south of the border does not “measure Canada’s commitment to defence by reference to any single metric.”

Canada has long faced calls to hit the agreed-upon target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence, with further pushes from allies in the last several months as it’s become the only member nation without a plan to meet the goal.

Cohen, as have other officials from the security alliance, commended Canada on its other efforts, including its work in Latvia and Haiti, its contributions to Ukraine and fortifications to Arctic defence.

“That's the kind of commitment that we're looking for, and what we're seeing,” Cohen said.

“I've been quite clear on this show and elsewhere that we're looking for Canada to continue to increase its spending on defence,” he also said. “I think, like NATO, we have advocated with Canada that it would be in their best interest to be able to make that commitment with a time horizon on it, and a reasonable time horizon on it.”

You can watch Cohen’s full interview on CTV’s Question Period Sunday at 11 a.m. ET or in the video player at the top of this article.

With files from CTV News’ Stephanie Ha

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