Polls are extremely tight going into Canada’s elections on Monday, with no clear frontrunner after incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weathered a corruption scandal and the discovery of several photos and videos that showed him wearing blackface.
The Globe and Mail saw the Liberal and Conservative parties “deadlocked” as of Monday morning, thanks in part to the rise of two strong third-party candidates. According to the report:
Among the biggest developments in this 43rd general election campaign, where Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was forced to confront a history of wearing racist makeup, and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was discovered to have kept quiet about holding American citizenship, were the resurgence of support in polls for both the New Democratic Party under Leader Jagmeet Singh and the separatist Bloc Québécois under chief Yves-François Blanchet.
Speaking to supporters in Port Moody, B.C., Mr. Trudeau called on voters to unite behind the Liberals, particularly in his home province of Quebec, by raising the spectre of separatism should the Bloc Québécois have a large haul of seats. The gains in support for the Bloc threaten the opportunities in Quebec for their political rivals.
Mr. Scheer issued a similar warning about the rise of the Bloc while campaigning in Vancouver, suggesting a vote for the Bloc is nothing short of a vote for a referendum on separation.
Mr. Scheer’s Conservatives have used considerable energy during their campaign to try to woo voters in Quebec, but polling data from Nanos Research suggested the Tories still trail the Liberals and the Bloc in the province.
Trudeau is also trying to woo Quebec voters, but Blanchet said he was wasting his time because they do not trust him. Singh is worried the Bloc Québécois will drain enough support from his New Democrat Party (NDP) to scuttle his hopes of forming a minority government if Trudeau and Scheer wrestle each other to the ground without a clear winner emerging.
Trudeau’s appeal to Quebec voters is largely based on national unity, while Singh is trying to convince them the Bloc Québécois cannot effectively implement climate change policies, which poll much higher on the list of concerns for Canadian voters than they do for Americans, running second only to health care.
“I want to be the prime minister of Canada because I believe New Democrats will make life better for Canadians, we’re going to fight the climate crisis like we want to win it,” Singh said over the weekend.
CNN looked forward to a “cliffhanger” ending to a “nasty” election that focused more on insults and scandals than policies. Scheer’s scandal is far less spectacular than Trudeau’s blackface or the SNC-Lavalin corruption saga that has dogged his administration for years, but it apparently rattled enough voters to keep Scheer from vaulting into the lead: he revealed during the campaign that he has dual citizenship in both Canada and the United States. This is not a technical disqualification, but some voters are grumpy that Scheer kept it a secret for so long, especially in a campaign where trust is a major theme.
Scheer is also seen as a rather bland presence on the stump while Trudeau still puts on quite a show – perhaps even more so as the blackface scandal pushed him through a series of humiliating but entertaining public apologies – and the Conservatives are offering a policy of lower taxes and more restrained government that does not appeal to much of the Canadian electorate.
Canadians do not vote directly for Prime Minister, so the challenge facing Scheer and Trudeau is putting together 170 seats to claim the office, something neither Singh nor Blanchet has a reasonable chance to do. If neither Trudeau or Scheer can get to 170, the incumbent Trudeau gets a chance to form a minority government.
Observers report a sense of ennui and even boredom hanging over the election, even though it is the closest race in modern Canadian history, and might be the first time in eight decades that a first-term Prime Minister with a parliamentary majority fails to win re-election. The New York Times summed up the world’s least exciting electoral photo finish by quoting a voter who sighed, “We will be stuck with one of them.”
Scheer wrapped up his race by warning that Trudeau would “pay any price to stay in power and he’d use your money to do it,” a note of caution about the heavy bill that will be dropped on taxpayers if Trudeau senses he can win by making big policy concessions to Singh and the NDP, possibly including a fantastically expensive single-payer prescription drug program.
Most analysts believe the Conservatives would have a harder time than the Liberals forming a minority government or getting legislation passed on a deal-by-deal basis because they have less common ground with Canada’s other parties, especially on signature proposals like tax relief and more aggressive development of oil and natural gas resources.
On the other hand, voters inclined to cast their ballots strategically might want a minority government, especially one headed by the Conservatives, because it would conduct more of its policy debates out in the open instead of making deals behind the scenes, as a powerful Liberal-NDP alliance would be inclined to do.
CBC on Monday morning reported some technical and procedural problems that will likely delay voting in a few areas. The Canadian electoral commission is apparently worried about miscreants taking advantage of the confusion to deliberately mislead voters in the affected areas with emails and text messages, potentially causing enough irregularities to disqualify a substantial chunk of the votes. Canada, unlike the United States, has strict nationwide voter ID requirements and firm regulations on the availability of polling places.