Correspondent in New York
The announcement caught much of Canada by surprise, many perhaps on vacation. On August 15, with the world’s eyes set on Kabul and the chaotic evacuation of the Afghan capital in the face of the arrival of the Taliban, Justin trudeau called early elections. The Canadian prime minister, limited to a minority government after his insufficient victory in the elections two years ago, wanted all the power: to win a parliamentary majority that does not make him depend on other political formations for his decisions.
The bet is decided this Monday, the day that Canadians are called to the polls to elect the House of Commons, something that was not planned until October 2023. And Trudeau runs the risk of backfiring: his party, the Liberal, reaches the date in a technical tie in the polls with the Conservative Party, led by Erin O’Toole.
At the time of the announcement of the electoral call, Trudeau justified the advance in the “decisive moment” that Canada is going through, threatened by “a global pandemic, a global recession and a global climate crisis”.
“Canadians need to decide how we end the battle against Covid-19 and recover strongly, from finishing the work with vaccines to supporting people until the end of this crisis,” said Trudeau at the time, who is seeking a multi-million dollar spending for mitigate the health and economic effects of the pandemic. “The decisions your Government makes now will define the future in which your children and grandchildren will grow up.”
It is known that each election is the most important and decisive in history – or so those who dispute them say – but that it is held has to do with Trudeau’s own political interest. The prime minister was driven by his management until the time of the pandemic and wanted to capitalize on it. Shortly before the announcement, according to the accumulated polls of 338Canada, the Liberals were slightly above the 170 seats, the threshold of an absolute majority.
The call was met with fierce criticism from his political opponents. “We were finally at a point where, thanks to the efforts of all Canadians who stayed home, got tested or were vaccinated, we can see our loved ones, our friends and family again,” O’Toole said. “We shouldn’t risk that for games or political interests.”
He was also criticized by the leader of the leftist New Democratic Party, Jameet Singh, who called it a “selfish summer choice.” And also Yves-Francois Blanchet, leader of the Quebec separatists – Bloc Québécois, who described the call as “irresponsible.”
An increasingly worse idea
The problem for Trudeau is that, as the days and weeks go by, his idea seems worse and worse. The electoral call took place when the daily average of cases in Canada began to rise due to the effect of the Delta variant and there were just under 1,900 a day. That average is now around 4,300 infections.
In these circumstances, the idea of taking Canadians to the polls – precisely, to give Trudeau all power to manage the pandemic – has ended up becoming a trap for the prime minister. Despite the facilities for voting by mail and that they will be distributed 16 million pencils so that voters do not have to share them when filling out their ballots, few Canadians celebrate the election call at a time like this.
The triumphal runway that Trudeau hoped to walk towards a new absolute majority – he enjoyed it in his first term, between 2015 and 2019 – has turned into a quagmire. A small, but very active, sector of Canadians is fighting anti-virus measures, while the prime minister seeks to impose the mandatory vaccination for officials and passengers on airplanes and trains. The anti-vaccines have thrown gravel at him at an electoral rally and forced him to suspend another.
Trouble for Trudeau
At the same time, other problems have accumulated. Inflation has reached its highest for the last 18 years this week. Trudeau has seen the ghost of one of the worst scandals of his life as prime minister reappear: Jody Wilson-Raybould, the attorney general who implicated him in a case of preferential treatment to a large company, has just released a book critical of Trudeau. He also drags another scandal from last year, due to the hand contract of a program related to the pandemic to an organization linked to his family.
Opposite has O’Toole, a lawyer and ex-military man, who won the party’s leadership in last year’s primaries with a conservative speech, but has now evolved into a more moderate message to broaden his electorate. Much of his campaign is in personally criticizing Trudeau, a leader who has lost the charisma and freshness of coming to power in 2015, when he offered idealism and, as he said in his victory speech, “sunny ways.”
“You could say it’s a lot to talk about and little to do, but it’s worse,” O’Toole said at a rally on the prime minister. “He is such a blind person with ambition that he cannot see what is rotten in his own party. He is a man who is not a feminist, nor an environmentalist, nor a public servant. He is a man who is uniquely and completely self-centered. “
Trudeau has sought to portray O’Toole as someone seeking a setback in Canada on issues such as public healthcare or arms control, has accused him of siding with the “anti-vaccine mobs” and of following a lukewarm position with Covid-19. For example, when this year applauded the decision of the governor of the province of Alberta, the conservative Jason Kenney, to lift restrictions, something to which he has now had to reverse.
Perhaps the worsening of the situation with the pandemic will act in favor of this speech by Trudeau and give him a final push. But the reality is that their advantage in the polls has deteriorated to almost disappearance, with liberals and conservatives in the environment of the 32% of the votes. Much will have to change things so that O’Toole or Trudeau can rule alone. Both will have to find support in the parliamentary arch, including the separatists of Quebec, who will try to get a slice. Avoiding things like this is what the prime minister wanted, and when Canada is about to vote, its situation may get worse.