The Canadian elections headed to a photographic finale on Monday with Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is seeking a third term, threatened by a strong challenge from rookie Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.
Trudeau called the snap elections in hopes of turning a smooth Covid-19 vaccine launch, among the best in the world, into a new mandate to lead the nation’s exit from the pandemic, without having to rely on the support of the opposition parties to approve his agenda.
But the race, after a hectic five weeks of campaigning, appears poised for a replay of the tight 2019 general election that resulted in the once golden boy of Canadian politics clinging to power but losing his majority in parliament. .
A sudden spike in Covid-19 cases led by the Delta variant at the end of the campaign, after the lifting of most public health measures this summer, has also hampered the works.
At 49, Trudeau has faced tougher fighting and was unscathed.
But after six years in power, his administration is showing signs of fatigue, and it has been an uphill battle for him to convince Canadians to stick with their liberals after failing to live up to the high expectations set in his landslide victory. of 2015.
“The main question at the polls at the beginning of this campaign was whether the Liberals deserved to have a majority government,” said Daniel Beland, a professor of politics at McGill University in Montreal.
“But now the question is whether they deserve to stay in power.”
Going down the stretch, the two major political parties that ruled Canada since its confederation of 1867 were shoulder to shoulder with about 31 percent of voting intentions each and four smaller factions on their heels.
Voting in Canada’s six time zones was scheduled to begin in the Atlantic island province of Newfoundland at 8:30 a.m. (1100 GMT) and end in the western tip of British Columbia at 7 p.m. (0200 GMT).
An estimated 27 million Canadians are eligible to vote to select 338 members of Parliament. To keep their job, Trudeau Liberals must win a plurality of seats and take at least 170 for the majority.
Due to the pandemic, a significant number of mail-in ballots (1.2 million) are expected, which could mean that the election results might not be known Monday night.
Pollster and former political strategist Tim Powers advised against ruling out Trudeau.
“I still think that Justin Trudeau will win a minority government,” he told AFP.
“But is that a victory for him?” he added, suggesting that Trudeau could be removed as leader if the Liberals fare poorly at the polls.
China’s ‘anti-vaxxer mobs’ and ‘counterattacks’
The 36-day campaign, the shortest allowed by Canadian law, saw contenders discuss climate actions, indigenous reconciliation, affordable housing, the recent Afghanistan crisis, mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations, and vaccine passports.
Rivals criticized Trudeau for the timing of elections during a pandemic.
Meanwhile, O’Toole, 48, was struck down by his support for Alberta and easing public health restrictions from two other conservative-led provinces too soon, and the Covid-19 outbreaks now force his overwhelmed. hospitals to transport patients across Canada for care.
>> Read more: Conservative challenger O’Toole aims to trip Trudeau as Canada votes
At the demonstrations, Trudeau was targeted by what he described as “anti-vaccine mobs,” including one that threw stones at him.
He also received the endorsement of former US President Barack Obama and his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
I wish my friend @JustinTrudeau the best in the upcoming Canadian election. Justin has been an effective leader and strong voice for democratic values, and I am proud of the work we did together.
– Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 16, 2021
O’Toole, meanwhile, struggled with gun control and was warned by Beijing, according to Chinese state media, that his hard-line proposal with China, Canada’s second-largest trading partner, with whom relations have soured over the arrest of two Canadian citizens. – “would invite counterattacks.”
Overall, said Max Cameron, a professor at the University of British Columbia, “this has not been a polarizing election. There are actually a lot of clusters in between.”
“It’s not about Republicans versus Democrats south of the border,” he said, referring to the United States.
“This has been a Canadian campaign where there is a strong consensus on what the problems are and how they should be addressed.”
O’Toole, a relatively unknown who became a Conservative leader last year, tracked his party to the political center, forcing the Liberals to compete for left-wing votes with the New Democrats and the Greens, as well as with the Quebecois separatist bloc.
Conservatives, however, also saw their support in the past week for the far-right Popular Party of former Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier.
When the final count comes in, said University of Winnipeg professor Felix Mathieu, “it’s unlikely that anyone would have gotten the majority.”