Trudeau seeks summer elections to strengthen his power

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Canada’s parliament collapsed for the summer this week, with conditions ripe for Justin Trudeau to trigger an election to regain complete control of the legislature.

Polls suggest that incumbent liberals have seen a surge in popularity due to their response to the coronavirus pandemic, which could lead to majority rule. Immunization rates are rising rapidly, allowing for looser public health restrictions, and the economy is recovering. It is speculated that elections could be scheduled as early as August, with a vote in September or October.

For Trudeau, a majority win would heal the reputational wound of his near-defeat in 2019 and enable him to become one of Canada’s longest serving Prime Ministers along with his late father, Pierre Trudeau.

Since Trudeau lost his majority two years ago, he has needed the help of other parties to pass laws, which gives the opposition plenty of leeway to set the agenda and scold him about ethics.

This is a far cry from his first mandate, in which the Liberals had a comfortable majority and Trudeau was heralded as an antidote to Donald Trump’s political style – a comparison that helped him domestically. Joe Biden praised the Prime Minister as one of the last global progressive leaders on the eve of Trump’s inauguration.

“They want a majority so they don’t have to answer to annoying opposition parties,” said Anne McGrath, national director of the left-wing New Democratic Party, in a telephone interview. “You want full control.”

According to a poll by Abacus Data released Thursday, the Liberals are backed by 37% of Canadians, with the Conservatives hitting 27% and the NDP 18%.

In addition to a two-digit lead in party preference, the approval ratings for both the government and Trudeau personally are higher than at the beginning of the 2019 election campaign. The impression of his main rival is lower and voters are less willing to change, according to Abacus.

These kinds of numbers put Trudeau on the threshold of a majority, with the 49-year-old prime minister clearly benefiting from what is seen as successful management of the COVID-19 crisis.

After a slow start plagued by delays and confusion, Canada’s vaccination campaign is rapidly accelerating to the 75% fully vaccinated milestone, which could allow the US border to open and tourist traffic to resume. While the economy has not yet made up for all jobs lost from the pandemic, growth is exceeding expectations, thanks in part to a hot housing market, and consumer confidence has risen.

Trudeau claims he doesn’t want elections. But when speaking this week about his administration’s efforts to pass important laws, the prime minister signaled his frustration with opposition parties, particularly the Conservatives under new leader Erin O’Toole. “We have identified levels of disability and toxicity in the House of Representatives that are really cause for concern,” he said Tuesday.

Last month there were a series of farewell speeches from Liberal lawmakers who no longer want to run, allowing the party to begin nominating new candidates. According to someone familiar with the plans, the Trudeau team has scheduled a platform workshop meeting with business groups and industry associations.

Of course, proclaiming an election could backfire. “It’s always tricky in the summer because you can annoy people by looking them in the face,” John Manley, a former Deputy Prime Minister of the Liberals, said on the phone. “This summer in particular, people will say, ‘Enough about politics. Leave me alone.'”

Campaigns are important in Canada. Trudeau himself rose to power from third place in 2015 when, after nearly a decade of conservative rule under Stephen Harper, voters decided it was time for a change.

And last time, the prime minister’s re-election bid was almost completely derailed by revelations Trudeau had made black-faced several times as a younger man.

This time around, Liberals hope their leadership of the economy through COVID-19 and ambitious spending plans for the recovery will be enough to regain control. They have developed specific guidelines to make this possible, with an emphasis on the vocal, French-speaking province of Quebec.

“There is no doubt that the Liberals’ path to majority leads through Quebec,” said pollster David Coletto, chief executive officer of Abacus.

A bill to regulate streaming and social media that the government passed before the summer break is popular in the province where culture protection is paramount. Trudeau’s support for the Quebec Prime Minister’s efforts to strengthen the rights of the French language will also help liberals to fight for votes against the Quebecois separatist bloc.

In Ontario – home to 121 of the 338 seats in the Canadian legislature, 76 of which are already liberal – Trudeau is likely to try to capitalize on the perception that Doug Ford’s provincial government mishandled the pandemic against the federal Conservatives.

And in British Columbia, the Liberals are hoping their climate change agenda will pull the support of the NDP and the Greens away.

“They go where the seats are,” said McGrath. “They’re betting that people will be more optimistic by the end of summer, and that will be good for them.”



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