MONTREAL / OAKVILLE, Ontario, September 19 (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, traveling the country to deliver a final speech to voters ahead of Monday’s election, said on Sunday that only his Liberals can end the COVID pandemic -19 and accused his main rival of taking the wrong approach.
Opinion polls indicate that the political advantage is with Trudeau, who is stepping up attacks on Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole over the pandemic. Trudeau supports vaccination mandates against O’Toole, who prefers testing to control the public health crisis.
If Trudeau wins, it would most likely be another minority government, again leaving it dependent on other parties for government. Trudeau, 49, took power in 2015.
O’Toole, 48, has been on the defensive since his ally Jason Kenney, the Conservative premier of Alberta, apologized on Wednesday for relaxing COVID-19 controls too early and mismanaging the pandemic. Cases in the Western Province have skyrocketed.
“We don’t need a Conservative government that won’t be able to show leadership on immunization and the science we need to end this,” Trudeau told reporters in Montreal.
Trudeau added that Canadians “have a very important choice to make, whether they want Erin O’Toole to continue working with Jason Kenney so as not to end this pandemic, or if they want a Liberal government.”
O’Toole evaded questions about his previous support for Kenney’s approach.
Sunday offered the last chance to influence voters. Parties are not allowed to campaign on election day. Trudeau intends to make stops across Canada, covering some 2,800 miles (4,500 km). Instead, O’Toole focused on parliamentary ridings near Toronto, Canada’s largest city.
Trudeau called the vote two years earlier to seek approval for his center-left government’s handling of the pandemic and regain the parliamentary majority he lost in 2019. His initial healthy lead in the race faded in the end. amid the discontent over the early call.
Polls show that neither liberals nor right-wing conservatives have the 38% public support needed to secure a majority.
The Trudeau government has racked up record debt to fight the pandemic. O’Toole, who said Trudeau would rack up unsustainable debt levels if re-elected, first took the lead after hammering the prime minister over what he called an unnecessary takeover in the Fourth wave of COVID-19.
Aiming to broaden his appeal, O’Toole attempted to move his party to the center, taking more progressive stances on gay rights and climate change than his predecessor.
“We’re not your grandfather’s Conservative Party. We’re reaching out to everyone – we’re a big positive blue tent,” O’Toole told supporters at a restaurant in Oakville, Ont.
A senior Liberal campaign official said Trudeau gained momentum late. A series of opinion polls in the past few days shows the Liberals and Conservatives are tied at about 32%.
This favors the Liberals, whose support is concentrated in the large urban centers rich in ridings. The Conservatives’ base of support is in the less populated rural areas and in the west of the country.
Trudeau could be hurt if there is low voter turnout, which tends to favor the Conservatives.
If Trudeau wins another minority, he will likely again depend on leftist New Democrats of Jagmeet Singh, who want higher spending levels. Singh said on Saturday that Trudeau and O’Toole had shown “a dismal leadership failure” in their handling of the pandemic, while also criticizing the early call for elections.
Reporting by Steve Scherer and Tyler Choi; Writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Will Dunham
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