Looming federal election all about securing a majority government: experts

Click to play video: 'PM Justin Trudeau plans to call election for September 20'
PM Justin Trudeau plans to call election for September 20
WATCH: PM Justin Trudeau plans to call election for Sept. 20 – Aug 13, 2021

With an expected federal election on the horizon, many Canadians may be questioning the timing as the country grapples with a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is well-positioned to regain his majority, and that is likely the motivating factor for calling an election now, according to experts. But they say the prime minister needs to motivate Canadians to vote during the pandemic – or he may risk his chances.

For months, there has been speculation that Trudeau would trigger a snap election this fall and sources have confirmed to Global News he will do just that on Sunday. Election day is expected to be Sept. 20.

After Trudeau gets Gov. Gen. Mary Simon’s approval to dissolve Parliament and his minority government, he must present voters with good reasons to vote during a fourth wave in order to secure a majority, said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs.

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“So how the prime minister announces this election, what the motivation is for going to the people to seek another mandate will be incredibly important in terms of setting people’s desire to show up and vote on the day that he picks for the election,” he said.

“This is the best chance since 2015 that they have to actually get a majority again, so you can see what the motivation is.”

First elected with a majority in 2015, Trudeau lost that hold on power and was reduced to a minority in the 2019 federal election.

Michele Cadario, who was deputy chief of staff to former prime minister Paul Martin as well as a former campaign manager, told Global News there is a reason to have an election right now.

“When we went to the polls last time, no one even heard the word COVID and then all of a sudden the last year and a half has just turned the entire world upside down,” she said. “So to seek a mandate to grow out of this pandemic is absolutely a strong reason, in my opinion, to go.”

Click to play video: 'Concerns about holding federal election during 4th wave'
Concerns about holding federal election during 4th wave

Throughout the pandemic, Trudeau’s minority government has relied on the support of at least one other federal party, often the NDP, to pass legislation.

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The Liberals have racked up record levels of debt as they spent heavily to shield individuals and businesses from COVID-19. They plan to inject an extra $100 billion – between three and four per cent of GDP – into the economy over the next three years.

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Trudeau’s main rivals, the Conservatives, have said future generations will be in debt due to his excessive spending.

Liberals have acknowledged an election now would be a gamble, given that a majority is not guaranteed. That said, a survey by Abacus on Thursday put the Liberals at 37 per cent and the Conservatives at 28 per cent.

The online poll of 3,000 people, conducted between Aug. 6 and Aug. 11, suggests Trudeau could well regain control of the House of Commons. The Liberals currently hold 155 of the 338 seats.

The pending election call sounds similar to that of Trudeau’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, who sought a majority government in 2008, said Robert Bothwell, a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

Voters rejected Harper’s push for power, but gave him a larger minority government.

“It happens … so it really depends on the political instincts and how correct they are of those people around the prime minister,” Bothwell said.

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In Regina on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters that her government knows they’re in a minority position and have been “ready for an election at any time.”

“That’s the reality of parliamentary democracy and being a minority in Parliament,” she said.

A fourth-wave election

On Thursday, Dr. Theresa Tam confirmed that Canada is now in a fourth wave, which is driven by the Delta variant.

On average, more than 1,500 new cases are being reported daily, with the majority of them reported in the 20-to-39 age group, the country’s chief public health officer said.

The Delta variant is driving up COVID-19 cases worldwide, and is the dominant mutation of the virus. Most cases and hospitalizations involve people who are not fully vaccinated, she added.

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Click to play video: '4th wave of the COVID-19 pandemic underway in Canada: Dr. Tam'
4th wave of the COVID-19 pandemic underway in Canada: Dr. Tam

With an election now at the doorstep, Tam said last week that she’s confident people will be able to cast ballots safely.

She added safety protocols can be put in place to minimize the risk of voting in person, as has been done in recent provincial elections. She added that Canada’s vaccination rate, which now sits at 82 per cent partially vaccinated and 71 per cent fully vaccinated, offers added protection.

Canada‘s chief electoral officer has also said Elections Canada has a plan to ensure an election can be conducted safely and produce trustworthy results.

Stephane Perrault told The Canadian Press recently that he expects as many as five million mail-in ballots, should an election happen, and that the final outcome might not be known for a few days.

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A spokesperson for Elections Canada told Global News in an email the next federal election is expected to cost $610 million, which is $108 million more than the last federal election, which cost $502 million.

“However, it should be noted that the overall cost of the next general election is unpredictable and will depend on the status of the pandemic at the time of the election,” the spokesperson said.

Regardless, Bothwell thinks an election can be held given the vaccine rollout and the fact other elections in Canada have been held during the pandemic.

“I assume it can be done,” he said. “Elections Canada is a very capable organization and so I take it on faith that they’ll be able to manage this.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician, said Canadians know how to control this virus.

“We have to ensure that those voting stations have good crowd control, they’re properly ventilated and everyone’s wearing a mask,” he said.

“You can’t have crowded indoor campaign rallies. You can do this safely, you just have to think really hard about how to do it and ensure that people are vigilant (with) the protocols.”

—With files from Abigail Bimman, Amanda Connolly and Reuters


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