Canada votes in pandemic election that could cost Justin Trudeau

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Toronto: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gambled on an early election in a bid to win a majority of seats in Parliament, but now faces the threat of being knocked from power in Canada’s election on Monday.

Polls indicate Trudeau’s Liberal Party is in a tight race with the rival Conservatives: It will likely win the most seats in Parliament, but still fail to get a majority, forcing it to rely on an opposition party to pass legislation.

“Trudeau made an incredibly stupid error in judgement,” said Robert Bothwell, a professor of Canadian history and international relations at the University of Toronto.

Trudeau entered the election leading a stable minority government that wasn’t under threat of being toppled.

The opposition has been relentless in accusing Trudeau of calling the early vote—two years before the deadline—for his own personal ambition. Trudeau channeled the star power of his father, the Liberal icon and late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, when he first won in 2015, but a combination of high expectations, scandal and calling the election last month during the pandemic have hurt his brand.

Trudeau is betting that Canadians will reward him for navigating the coronavirus crisis better than most countries did. Canada is now one of the most vaccinated nations in the world and Trudeau’s government spent hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up the economy amid lockdowns.

Trudeau argues that the Conservatives’ approach, which has been more skeptical of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, would be dangerous and says Canadians need a government that follows science.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole didn’t require his party’s candidates to be vaccinated and won’t say how many are unvaccinated. O’Toole describes vaccination as a personal health decision, but a growing number of vaccinated Canadians are becoming increasingly upset with those who refuse to get vaccinated.

“He’s more interested in standing up for the rights of anti-vaxxers within his own party than he is in standing up for people who have done the right things and want to get back to normal,” Trudeau said at a campaign stop in Windsor, Ontario, on Friday.

Trudeau supports making vaccines mandatory for Canadians to travel by air or rail, something the Conservatives oppose. And Trudeau has pointed out that Alberta, run by a Conservative provincial government, is in crisis.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, an ally of O’Toole, said the province might run out of beds and staff for intensive care units within days. Kenney has apologised for the dire situation and is now reluctantly introducing a vaccine passport and imposing a mandatory work-from-home order two months after lifting nearly all restrictions.

A Conservative win would represent a rebuke of Trudeau, who now is at risk of losing office to a politician with a fraction of his own name recognition. O’Toole, 47, is a military veteran, former lawyer and a member of Parliament for nine years.

O’Toole advertised himself a year ago as a “true-blue conservative”. He became Conservative Party leader with a pledge to “take back Canada”, but immediately started working to push the party towards the political centre.

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