After weeks of being hammered by opposition leaders for plunging the country into a federal election during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is standing firmly behind his decision.
Speaking to reporters during a Friday press conference, Trudeau was asked if he has any regrets about triggering the election and sending Canadians to the polls.
“No. Absolutely not,” the Liberal leader said.
“Whichever government (Canadians) elect is going to be making decisions in the coming months — not a year from now, not two years from now, but now — about how we move forward.”
Trudeau has repeatedly pointed to the election as a necessity as the government decides how to navigate the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that Canadians “should get to be very clear” about “how they want to end this pandemic.”
Still, that message has failed to connect for many Canadians who say they never wanted an election in the first place.
Just shy of a month ago, 56 per cent of Canadians disagreed with the need for an election, according to polling from Ipsos. But instead of fading into the background as Canadians accepted the looming vote, that number has grown.
Now, 68 per cent of Canadians say they don’t think an election was necessary, according to polling that Ipsos published on Thursday.
“I’ve never seen an example in which people weren’t able to get over why an election was called — never seen this before,” said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs.
The anger over the election call hasn’t been lost on opposition leaders, who have pounced on the Liberal Party repeatedly on the issue of the election call. As party leaders sparred in the final debate before election day on Thursday night, Trudeau was grilled once more for the decision.
“You put your own political interests ahead of the well-being of thousands of people. Leadership is about putting others first, not yourself, Mr. Trudeau. You should not have called this election,” said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, referencing the recent evacuations from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also slammed Trudeau on the issue.
“It was a bad decision to call an election while this crisis was going on, particularly because we’ve got allies on the ground that put their lives at risk to support our Canadian forces who are now looking at peril for their lives and may never get out of Afghanistan,” Singh said.
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul also chimed in, stating that “walking up to Rideau Hall and calling an election under these circumstances was not the right thing to do.”
The election campaign also forges on as COVID-19 cases continue to climb, mainly due to an uptick in spread among unvaccinated populations. Canada reported more than 4,000 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total active cases across the country to more than 38,000.
Between Aug. 30 and Sept. 6, there was also an uptick in hospitalizations, according to Health Canada. The number of beds occupied by COVID-19 patients increased from 877 to 1,070. The number of intensive care beds taken up by COVID-19 cases also increased, from 411 to 533. On top of that, there was a jump in COVID-19 patients who had to be mechanically vented — from 177 to 241.
Still, Trudeau stood by the decision on Friday, with Canadians heading to the polls in less than two weeks.
“These kids, they can’t get vaccinated yet. And Erin O’Toole thinks it’s OK for, when you get on a plane or a train, maybe the person sitting across the aisle from your child isn’t vaccinated,” he said.
“It’s not about punishing people. It’s about making sure that those who have done the right things to keep their communities safe will continue to be safe. That’s what’s at stake here in this election. That’s why we’re having this election.”
— With files from Global News’ Ahmar Khan