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COMMENTARY: Prime Minister Trudeau plays his hand in game of election poker

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: ‘I do not want an election,’ Trudeau says' Coronavirus: ‘I do not want an election,’ Trudeau says
WATCH: (Sept. 16) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, when asked about concerns of a potential election during the COVID-19 pandemic, said on Wednesday they have been listening carefully to opposition parties in terms of what they see Canadians need ahead of the throne speech. However, he said it would be “irresponsible” to talk about the "recklessness" of elections, but opposition parties need to reflect on the direction the country is taking. He also added he does not want an election and their goal is to keep Canadians safe.

Justin Trudeau says he doesn’t want a federal election this fall, but he is daring his opponents to force one with next week’s critical throne speech.

The Sept. 23 outline of the Trudeau government’s agenda will not be your typically boring “throne drone.”

Instead, Trudeau has signalled the speech will map a bold, once-in-a-generation plan to lead Canada out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we’ve been struggling with this pandemic, we’ve also seen, laid visible, many different weaknesses within Canadian society, gaps in our social safety net, people who are falling through the cracks,” Trudeau said.

“More than ever, we need an economy that benefits all Canadians.”

Read more: Most Canadians comfortable with an election amid coronavirus — what would it look like?

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It sets up a throne speech expected to contain lofty, ambitious and expensive goals like a possible new national drug plan, child-care programs and expanded social programs.

Then it will be time for MPs to vote. If the speech is defeated in the House Commons — where Trudeau governs with a shaky Liberal minority — it would trigger an election.

It would be an election Trudeau insists that he doesn’t want.

“I don’t want an election. I don’t think Canadians want an election,” Trudeau said.

But the vote on the throne speech could be one of several confidence votes facing the Trudeau government in the days ahead.

It makes Erin O’Toole, the new Conservative Party leader, wonder whether Trudeau might secretly prefer an election after all.

“Over the next few weeks, we’re counting about five confidence votes that he is forcing,” O’Toole told me.

“He has a throne speech that is basically being used to put a bunch of confidence votes into Parliament. So forgive me when I don’t believe in his sincerity that they don’t want an election.”

But will O’Toole’s Tories try to bring down the government? For now, he won’t reveal his own plans.

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The opposition New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois are also playing coy, though Bloc leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has threatened to try to topple the government over the WE Charity scandal.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has not guaranteed his support, either, though he is more likely to side with the government. If the NDP supports the throne speech, an election would be avoided, and Singh will claim credit for generous social programs expected to be contained in the speech.

And maybe that’s the scenario Trudeau really wants. If the Tories and Bloc vote against the speech, Trudeau will accuse them of abandoning Canadians during the pandemic.

And if he somehow loses a confidence vote in the days ahead, he will take the plan directly to Canadian voters.

The rival Conservatives have gotten a boost under the fresh leadership of O’Toole, an improvement over previous leader Andrew Scheer.

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But Trudeau’s Liberals still hold the edge in most recent polls. And even though Trudeau said he doesn’t want an election, he said the pandemic won’t prevent one from happening.

“Our country and our institutions are stronger than that,” he said.

“If there has to be an election, we’ll figure it out.”

Read more: Conservative Leader O’Toole says triggering fall election ‘not my priority’

Now get set for Trudeau to outline a massive agenda designed to appeal to voters worried over a pandemic that continues to drag on.

O’Toole thinks it could be an irresponsible government spending spree that hurts Canada in the long run.

“They’re going to do their ideological stuff,” the Tory leader told me.

“I think the Liberals are going to try and use as much taxpayers’ money to sort of bribe people to not look at the real underlying risks we have to our long-term prosperity.”

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But I’m not sure a lot of voters are thinking long-term these days. Trudeau seems to be betting on Canadians’ short-term concerns and worries instead.

If his make-or-break throne speech does trigger an election, he will be willing to take his chances with voters again.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at mike@cknw.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.