TORONTO (AP) – Canadians began voting on Monday in an election that threatens to remove Justin Trudeau from power.
Trudeau bet on an early election in an attempt to win a majority of seats in Parliament.
Polls indicate Trudeau’s Liberal Party is in a close race with rival Tories: it will likely win the most seats in Parliament, but still fail to secure a majority, forcing it to rely on a party of opposition to pass a law.
Polling stations first opened in the Atlantic coast province of Newfoundland.
“Trudeau made an incredibly stupid error in judgment,” said Robert Bothwell, professor of Canadian history and international relations at the University of Toronto.
Trudeau entered the election as the head of a stable minority government that was not in danger of being toppled.
The opposition has repeatedly accused Trudeau of calling for early voting – two years before the deadline – for his own personal ambition. Trudeau channeled the star power of his father, liberal icon and late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, when he first won in 2015, but a combination of high expectations, scandal and an election call last month during the pandemic damaged its brand.
Trudeau is betting that Canadians will reward him for handling the coronavirus crisis better than most countries. Canada is now one of the most vaccinated countries in the world and the Trudeau government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to support the economy amid the lockdowns.
Trudeau argues that the Conservatives’ approach, which has been more skeptical of blockades and vaccination mandates, would be dangerous and says Canadians need a government that follows science.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has not demanded that his party’s candidates be vaccinated and will not say how many are not vaccinated. O’Toole describes vaccination as a personal health decision, but a growing number of vaccinated Canadians are increasingly unhappy with those who refuse to be vaccinated.
“He’s more interested in defending anti-vaccine rights within his own party than defending people who have done the right things and want to get back to normal,” Trudeau said during a campaign shutdown in Windsor, Ontario, Friday.
Trudeau supports the requirement for Canadians to be vaccinated by plane or train, which the Conservatives oppose. And Trudeau pointed out that Alberta, led by a Conservative provincial government, is in crisis.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, an O’Toole ally, said the province could run out of intensive care unit beds and staff within days. Kenney has apologized for the dire situation and now reluctantly introduces a vaccination passport and imposes a mandatory work-from-home order two months after lifting nearly all restrictions.
A Tory victory would represent a rebuke from Trudeau, who now risks losing office to a politician with a fraction of his own name recognition. O’Toole, 47, is a military veteran, former lawyer and nine-year MP.
O’Toole introduced himself a year ago as a “true blue conservative”. He became leader of the Conservative Party with a pledge to “take back Canada”, but immediately began to work to push the party towards the political center.
O’Toole’s new strategy, which has included disavowing his party’s cherished grassroots positions on issues such as climate change, guns and balanced budgets, is designed to appeal to a wider range. voters in a country that tends to be much more liberal than its neighbor to the south.
The son of a longtime politician has come under criticism, he will say and do anything to get elected.
“I’m not your father’s Conservative Party,” O’Toole said.
Whether moderate Canadians believe O’Toole is the progressive conservative he claims to be and whether he has alienated mainstream conservatives have become central issues of the campaign.
Jenni Byrne, who served as campaign manager and deputy chief of staff to former Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said there was a lack of enthusiasm among Tories across the country.
“We will know Tuesday morning if the Erin O’Toole version of the Conservative Party connects with voters, but if there is any truth in the polls, it’s something I don’t think connects in numbers that we we are connected in the past, including in the last election, ”Byrne said.
The wild card could be a politician who narrowly lost leadership of the Conservative Party in 2017, but now leads a far-right party that opposes vaccines and blockades. Polls suggest as much as 5-10% support Maxime Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada, which could bleed O’Toole’s conservative support and help the Liberals retain power.
Trudeau’s legacy includes the adoption of immigration at a time when the United States and other countries have closed their doors. He also legalized cannabis nationwide and instituted a carbon tax to fight climate change. And he preserved the free trade deal with the United States and Mexico amid threats from former US President Donald Trump to cancel the deal.
Perhaps sensing Trudeau in trouble, former US President Barack Obama and former Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted their support for Trudeau.
There will be no Trump approval for O’Toole. Conservative campaign co-chair Walied Soliman said there was no alignment between O’Toole and Trumpism.
But if O’Toole wins, he has vowed to take a stronger stance against China, including banning Chinese tech giant Huawei from Canada’s next generation of telecommunications networks.
O’Toole also said he would move the Canadian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem just as Trump moved the U.S. embassy, upsetting decades of politics.