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COMMENTARY: Does Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have an election in mind for the new year?

Click to play video 'Trudeau’s approval ratings hold steady amid COVID-19 pandemic, Ipsos poll shows' Trudeau’s approval ratings hold steady amid COVID-19 pandemic, Ipsos poll shows
WATCH: (Nov. 29, 2020) Polling done exclusively by Ipsos for Global News showed that 60 per cent of Canadians surveyed approve of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's performance in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and that Trudeau’s Liberals maintain their advantage over the Conservatives, with a five-point lead over the party – Nov 29, 2020

Forget about sugar plums. I think Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have very different visions dancing through his head this Christmas.

I’m talking about visions of an election this spring. How could he not be dreaming of an early rendezvous with voters, with the governing Liberals continuing to perform well in the opinion polls?

The latest Ipsos poll shows Trudeau’s Liberals holding a five-point lead over the federal Conservatives, though the race has tightened since Erin O’Toole became the new Tory leader.

Even more encouraging for Trudeau, though, is his healthy 60 per cent job approval rating, a number that must excite Liberal strategists.

Many signs point to Trudeau’s desire to test that popularity with voters in an election.

Read more: Coronavirus cases are soaring but Trudeau’s approval ratings hold steady, Ipsos poll says

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This week’s fiscal update revealed a massive deficit of $381 billion, but the government said that’s just the cost of taking care of Canadians in a pandemic.

“We had to do what we had to do,” Economic Development Minister Melanie Joly told me.

“We had to be there for people. We had to be there for businesses. We are not the only ones in this boat. Lots of countries in the world are in the same situation.”

The Conservatives, of course, don’t see it that way, insisting the massive program of deficit spending is a dangerous course for Canadians.

“We have the biggest deficit in the G20 by far, so for her to suggest that we’re just doing what everyone else is doing is patently false,” Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre told me.

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“In fact, the majority of countries in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) have deficits that are roughly half the size of ours as a share of their economies.”

Joly counters that by saying Canada is well-positioned to sop up all the red ink.

Canada’s accumulated debt may be swelling as a result of COVID-19 relief spending, but Joly argued that other developed countries are deeper in hock.

“We still have the best debt-to-GDP ratio in the G7,” she said.

But Poilievre scoffed at that, too, saying Trudeau reminds him of a spoiled trust-fund kid maxing out his parents’ credit card.

“Justin Trudeau inherited the best balance sheet in the world,” he said, arguing previous Conservative and Liberal governments placed tighter controls on debt growth.

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“It’s like a rich kid bombing around Nice smoking dope and living the high life and he says, ‘Hey, why should I worry about money?’ Well, yeah, you inherited it from your parents!

“Now they’re blowing that inheritance. The government should not be bragging about what previous governments did.”

Poilievre said the Liberals vastly over-spent on COVID-19 relief and the Conservatives have demanded an independent audit of about $200-billion worth of pandemic spending.

“It’s been poorly targeted, spraying cash in all directions, and that was unnecessary,” he said.

“We’re asking the auditor general to do a full examination.”

Read more: Liberals keep edge in support over Tories as coronavirus cases grow

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But here’s the thing: I doubt Trudeau is too worried about being criticized for being excessively generous to Canadians during the pandemic.

And now Trudeau is vowing to keep right on spending, even when the pandemic is over.

This week’s fiscal update by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland included an additional $100 billion in new spending over three years to help the country through post-pandemic recovery.

“Even after we have the virus under control, we are still going to have an economy that needs some help to fire at its full potential,” Freeland said.

Read more: Canadians are feeling pandemic fatigue. Experts say ‘greater good’ message isn’t enough

But Poilievre questions the need for additional massive spending for another three years when a COVID vaccine is on the horizon.

“The temporary spending was supposed to be exactly that — temporary,” Poilievre said.

“Why would we need to then pile on another hundred billion dollars to our national credit card?”

I think the answer to that question is that Trudeau is planning for an election to intervene in the spring.

I suspect Trudeau is worried about a voter backlash if the introduction of a vaccine is delayed in Canada in 2021.

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Better to go to an early election, with optimism for a vaccine still fresh in the minds of voters, all while lavishing Canadians with promises of even more government spending.

If the Conservatives continue to criticize Trudeau for spending too much, I suspect that’s an argument Trudeau will be willing to have on the campaign trail.

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​.