Justin Trudeau has triggered a long-expected snap election, seeking to gain a majority on the strength of his Liberal government’s record in managing COVID-19 – but opposition parties are casting the campaign as unnecessary and a blatant attempt at a power grab amid the fourth wave of the pandemic.
Mr. Trudeau, accompanied by his family, visited newly minted Governor-General Mary Simon at Rideau Hall on Sunday morning where she accepted his request to dissolve the 43rd Parliament. Despite his promise earlier this year not to hold an election during the pandemic, Mr. Trudeau told reporters that he needs a new mandate.
“Canadians need to choose how to finish the fight against COVID-19 and build back better. From getting the job done on vaccines to having people’s backs all the way to and through the end of this crisis,” he said.
The campaign for the Sept. 20 vote will be 36 days, the shortest possible election period under federal law and more than two years before a vote was required under fixed-election-date legislation. Elections Canada says the campaign will cost $610-million.
The Liberals have been planning a snap summer election call for months to take advantage of low poll numbers for the Conservatives and the expectation that voters will reward them for their handling of COVID-19. They have rushed out a steady stream of pre-election spending announcements featuring Liberal ministers and MPs.
In the four weeks leading up to the Sunday election call, the Trudeau Liberals held news conferences and published press releases trumpeting more than $40-billion in spending on everything from electric-vehicle charging stations to faster internet to satellite networks and a hydroelectric project, a Globe and Mail analysis shows. Much, if not all, of the money comes from the 2021 budget.
This spending included a last-minute announcement Sunday, about one hour before Mr. Trudeau went to Rideau Hall, that Ottawa would provide $500-million for farmers suffering from drought or wildfires. The Liberals also trumpeted that all seniors who are eligible for Old Age Security will receive a $500 one-time payment on Monday – that alone will cost about $1.6-billion.
On Sunday, Mr. Trudeau sought to justify the election even though the country is in the midst of a pandemic.
“The government and indeed Parliament needs an opportunity to get a mandate from Canadians,” he said. “This is a moment when we will be making decisions – not just for the coming months – but for the coming decades and Canadians deserve their say.”
Mr. Trudeau’s political opponents expressed concern about campaigning during the pandemic’s fourth wave.
“We are finally at the point – thanks to the efforts of all Canadians who stayed home, got tested, got vaccinated – where we can see our loved ones and families again,” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said. “We shouldn’t be risking that for political games, for political gain.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was campaigning in Quebec where the party has only one seat, said Canadians should not reward the Liberals with a majority.
“Why this selfish summer election? Well, it’s clear Justin Trudeau wants to grab power, wants a majority. It’s certainly not because he wants to help more people or help people more,” Mr. Singh said.
“We are in a pandemic that will not end. Calling an election is very irresponsible,” Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said. “If it is important for the Liberals to impose mandatory vaccines [on federal employees and air and rail travellers], then isn’t it dangerous to go into an election campaign?”
Mr. Trudeau intends to use those mandatory vaccinations as a wedge issue. He noted that the Conservatives are not in favour of his vaccine decision.
The Conservative Leader said he supports vaccinations, but also the wearing of masks and rapid testing for people who do not want to get vaccinated.
“Conservatives would like Canadians to be able to make their own decision. We have to educate people, not force them,” Mr. O’Toole told reporters.
The Liberals lost their majority in the 2019 election, winning 157 seats to make up a relatively strong minority government. To form a majority government, a party needs to win 170 seats, and the Liberals believe the snap election is their best chance to regain control of Parliament.
Recent opinion polls suggest the party is not headed for a majority.
A poll by Nanos Research, completed Friday, shows the Liberals with only 33.4-per-cent support, a drop of 5.9 percentage points from four weeks ago when the party appeared headed for a majority government.
“They are not in majority territory any more,” said Nik Nanos, the polling firm’s founder. “If this election is about Justin Trudeau calling an unnecessary election and not looking sensitive to the fact we are still in a pandemic, there will be trouble for the Liberals. It won’t be an easy election.”
The poll shows the Conservatives with 28.4-per-cent support, up 4.8 percentage points from four weeks ago, and the NDP holding steady at 20.7 per cent. The Nanos survey of 1,000 Canadians is based on a four-week rolling average. The random poll, using land and cellphone lines, is considered accurate to within three percentage points, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.
Two of the most important issues facing voters are climate change and the record debt amassed by the Liberal government to protect workers, businesses and the economy from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hard-pressed families [are] struggling to pay bills and worried about the cost of food, of heating, and the Liberal Party’s answer is to ask you to reward them with another four years of majority for doing the bare minimum,” Mr. O’Toole said.
The Conservatives are hoping to capitalize on low expectations for Mr. O’Toole, whose personal-approval ratings trail Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Singh. The Conservatives say a similar low bar helped Mr. Trudeau in 2015, where he and his party were polling in third place at the beginning of that campaign.
This federal election will be unlike any others as it comes amid the pandemic. Many provinces still restrict the size of gatherings, and the parties have to respect those limits, even as the leaders crisscross the country.
The Liberals say the events they organize will have a maximum of 100 people outdoors, or less if local rules have a smaller capacity limit. However, Mr. Trudeau is attending larger events that are organized by other groups, and at a Montreal street party, with hundreds in attendance, he was surrounded by people asking for selfies, offering hugs and tapping elbows.
ROBERT FIFE, OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
STEVEN CHASE, SENIOR PARLIAMENTARY REPORTER
The Globe and Mail, August 15, 2021