TORONTO (AP) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces an uphill battle against Conservative Party rival Erin O’Toole in Canada’s election on Monday.
Trudeau called the early elections in hopes of winning a majority of the seats in parliament, but has been criticized for calling a vote during a pandemic to consolidate his power. Here is a guide for choosing on Monday:
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
Trudeau and his Liberal Party could lose power to the Conservative Party after six years in office. Trudeau struggled to justify why he held the elections prematurely amid the pandemic, and the opposition relentlessly accused him of doing so for his own personal ambition. But Trudeau is betting that Canadians will reward him for coping with the coronavirus crisis better than most countries.
Canada has recorded far fewer cases and deaths than many other nations, and Trudeau’s government spent hundreds of billions of dollars propping up the economy amid lockdowns. After a sluggish start, Canada is now one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, leading the G-7 in vaccination rates. Trudeau recently reopened the border, but only to vaccinated people.
If elected, O’Toole says he will close the borders to prevent dangerous variants from entering. Plus, O’Toole has moved his Conservative party into the middle to gain power and is now calling itself a Progressive.
Trudeau argues that keeping the Conservatives in power during a pandemic is not advisable, saying Canadians need a government that follows science. O’Toole does not ask for his party’s candidates to be vaccinated, nor does it say how many are unvaccinated. He describes the vaccination as a personal health decision.
Trudeau supports the mandatory introduction of vaccines for Canadians on air or rail travel, which the Conservatives oppose. Trudeau points out the dire situation in Alberta, which is ruled by a conservative provincial government. Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney says the province could run out of beds and intensive care staff in a matter of days. Apologizing for the crisis, Kenney is now reluctantly introducing a vaccination record and imposing a mandatory homework order two months after almost all restrictions were lifted.
The Liberals, in turn, run a notice of attack quoting O’Toole who praised Kenney for his management of the pandemic and said it was better than Trudeau’s federal government.
Trudeau tried to capitalize on his administration’s handling of the pandemic, but was accused of prematurely calling the elections for selfish, political reasons.
Tall and slim, Trudeau channeled the star power of his father, the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau when he was first elected in 2015. He appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and in Vogue magazine, but analysts say high expectations and overexposure contributed to some trouble with him. Photos of Trudeau, who appeared in black and brown in his youth, also surfaced in the last election in 2019, which challenged his judgment.
WHAT DOES O’TOOL STAND FOR?
As the son of a longtime politician, O’Toole competed as a “true blue conservative” who vowed to take Canada back! when he won his party’s leadership a year ago. Now he describes himself as progressive and disavows the social and fiscal policies that made him his party leader. Polls show that O’Toole could defeat Trudeau’s Liberal Party despite criticism he says and will do anything to get elected.
O’Toole is now in favor of a carbon tax, which he promised to abolish and which the Conservatives belittled. O’Toole reversed the party’s position on arms three weeks after the start of the election campaign, contradicting the conservative platform he launched last month by promising to uphold the Liberals’ list of banned firearms.
ALL RIGHT IMPACT?
A politician who narrowly lost the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2017 is now leading a far-right party that speaks out against vaccines and bans. Polls suggest 5% to 10% support for Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada, which could bleed the Conservative Party’s support and help the Liberals maintain power. A concerned O’Toole said Friday that while there are other parties, only one party that has a chance of defeating Trudeau – the Conservatives.
Vaccination opponents of the People’s Party have tried to disrupt Trudeau’s election campaign events. One party member was arrested for throwing gravel and stones at Trudeau and there were protests outside hospitals.
Growing numbers of vaccinated Canadians are increasingly angry with those who refuse to be vaccinated. It was Trudeau’s biggest wedge problem.
A MINORITY GOVERNMENT?
Canadians do not directly elect the prime minister. Instead, the post goes to the leader of the party, which either wins a majority of the seats in the lower house or can ally with another party to achieve a majority. Trudeau called the early elections in hopes of a majority, but polls suggest that neither party is likely to win a majority of the 338 seats in parliament, so an alliance may be required to pass laws.
If the Conservatives win the majority of the seats, but not a majority, they are expected to seek a deal with the Bloc Quebecois separatist party in Quebec. Trudeau’s liberals would likely rely on the left New Democrats. The Liberals had 155 seats in this election, the Conservatives had 119, the Quebecois Bloc 32 and the left New Democrats 24. The People’s Party had none.