Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday July 9, 2021
Trudeau denies it, but signs point to early election in Canada
Covid-19 cases are down in Canada and some are interpreting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cross-country travel this week as a surefire sign of an imminent election.
Trudeau’s whistle stop in Calgary on Wednesday started with a blunt question from RED FM host Rishi Nagar, who noted the prime minister’s back-to-back pit stops in Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan and in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., to make a C$420-million funding announcement to help Algoma Steel phase out coal and create jobs.
“All this shows that you are in an election campaign mode,” Nagar said. Trudeau rejected the characterization.
“Actually, it doesn’t. It shows that we are getting things done,” Trudeau said in this first in-studio interview in 16 months. “I’ve been taking advantage of the fact that our case loads are now lower that people are getting vaccinated, to be able to travel a little bit more and make the announcements on things that we’ve been working on for many, many months.”
Nearly 78 percent of eligible Canadians have so far received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Forty-four percent are fully vaccinated. Growing in parallel to Canada’s vaccination rates is speculation about the timing of a federal election — and anxiety over how it could be as early as late summer.
Political watchers have been viewing everything through an election lens: the return of Trudeau’s clean-shaven look, inflation climbing to its highest rate in a decade, the anticipated timing of the Canada-U.S. border reopening, a free one-time check for seniors timed for the week of Aug. 16, an increased number of in-person funding announcements, and, according to former Liberal strategist David Herle, the fact Liberal MPs have been nudged to take their vacations in July.
The country’s attention is split. Many in Canada are focused on securing second doses and family reunions, grief over the discovery of more than 1,000 remains in unmarked graves on the grounds of former Indian residential schools, and the extreme heat that saw hundreds of “sudden and unexpected deaths” in the western province of British Columbia, triggering renewed focus to climate change.
On Thursday, the prime minister’s plane landed in British Columbia where he announced a new C$3.2-billion agreement with the province to cut child care fees in half by the end of 2022.
“We’re making your life easier and more affordable,” Trudeau said in the campaign-style announcement. He said the agreement would see the creation of 30,000 high-quality spaces over the next five years. “This is what it means to be a feminist government.”
Trudeau is teasing news about the promise of a national child care and early learning system. It’s an anticipated update to a marquee proposal from this year’s federal budget that will have the attention of parents across the country, especially in vote-rich southern Ontario where there are 45 seats to be won. Annual child care costs in Toronto are the country’s highest, topping C$21,000, according to the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives.
“I’m very much looking forward to making big announcements on child care in the coming weeks,” Trudeau said Wednesday.
Trudeau wields power in a minority government, which means he needs the support of opposition parties to pass legislation. As prime minister, it also means he has the power to call an election.
Recent polls have placed the Liberals in single to double-digit leads, throwing open a window for Trudeau to dissolve Parliament in an attempt to turn his minority government — which has been functioning throughout the pandemic — into a majority.
The next fixed election date is Oct. 16, 2023. But under Canada’s constitutional monarchy system, the prime minister can request to dissolve Parliament at any time to trigger an election. For an incumbent government, that ability to choose a date and prepare is an advantage.
“For the Liberals, it’s the question of whether the current trends will hold into the fall,” veteran polls analyst Éric Grenier told POLITICO. Grenier, who recently launched The Writ, said Liberals will have to take stock of the political environment as the pandemic subsides.
The longer the Liberals wait, the more they risk squandering the opportunity to take advantage of the Conservatives’ polling numbers, which Grenier said are lower than those pulled by former leader Andrew Scheer in the lead up to the 2019 federal election.
“There are also some municipal elections in fall, that could complicate things,” Grenier said. “I don’t think that would be enough necessarily to prevent them from calling an election.” (Politico)