Trudeau, challengers make final appeals ahead of Canada's election

Two people take part in a debate
Conservative leader Erin O'Toole (left) and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau speak during the Canadian federal election French-language leaders debate on Sept. 8 in Gatineau, Que.
Justin Tang | Canadian Press via AP

On the final campaign day of a tight election battle, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned that his Conservative opponents would weaken the nation's battle against the pandemic and said Canadians need a government that follows science.

Polls indicate Trudeau’s Liberal Party is in a close race with the rival Conservatives and that it is unlikely on Monday to get the outright majority needed to govern without relying on an opposition party to remain in power.

“We do not need a Conservative government that won’t be able to show the leadership of vaccinations and on science that we need to end this,” Trudeau said at a campaign stop in Montreal on Sunday.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has refused to say how many of his party's candidates are unvaccinated and Trudeau has been reminding Canadians of that at every opportunity.

O’Toole has described candidates' vaccine choice as a personal health decision, but a growing number of vaccinated Canadians are becoming increasingly upset with those who refuse to get vaccinated.

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 apologized 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.

Trudeau gambled and called an early election to capitalize on his government’s handling of the pandemic. But the opposition has been relentless in accusing him of calling it for his own personal ambition.

“This pandemic election is vain, risky and selfish,” O’Toole said at a campaign stop in Ontario on Saturday.

A Conservative victory would represent a rebuke of Trudeau, whose opponent has a fraction of his name recognition. O’Toole, 47, is a military veteran, former lawyer and a member of Parliament for nine years.

The 49-year-old Trudeau channeled the star power of his father, the Liberal icon and late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, when he won in 2015, but a combination of high expectations, overexposure and scandal have contributed to fatigue.

“A Liberal majority is possible but it’s not the most likely scenario," said Daniel Béland a political science professor at McGill University in Montreal. “It is clear that the issue of vaccination mandates has allowed the Liberals to score points against the Conservatives, who keep emphasizing personal freedom."

A politician who narrowly lost the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2017 now leads a far-right party that opposes vaccines and lockdowns. Polls suggest as much as 5 percent to 10 percent support for Maxime Bernier and his People's Party of Canada, which could bleed support from the Conservative Party and help the Liberals retain power. A worried O'Toole said Friday that while there are other parties, there's only one party that has a chance to defeat Trudeau — the Conservatives.

Canadians don’t directly elect the prime minister. Instead, the post goes to the leader of the party that either wins the majority of seats in the House of Commons or can ally with another party to reach a majority. Trudeau called the early election in hopes of winning a majority but polls suggest that no party is likely to get a majority of Parliament’s 338 seats, so an alliance may be needed to pass legislation.

If Conservatives win the most seats — but not a majority — they are expected to seek an arrangement with the separatist Bloc Quebecois party in Quebec. Trudeau’s Liberals would likely rely on the leftist New Democrats. The Liberals entered this election with 155 seats, the Conservatives had 119, the Bloc Quebecois 32 and the New Democrats 24. The People’s Party had none.

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