Government sources in Canada said Friday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will ask for Parliament to be dissolved on Sunday, setting the stage for a snap election on September 20.
Canadian medical experts worried that holding the election could be dangerous amid Canada’s “fourth wave” of coronavirus infections, but Trudeau reportedly feels it is necessary to secure public approval for expensive new measures to combat the Wuhan pandemic.
Canada’s CBC News noted Governor General Mary Simon “could say no” to Trudeau and refuse to dissolve Parliament, although “that would be a rare move out of line with parliamentary tradition.”
Jagmeet Singh, leader of the opposition NDP party, wrote a letter to Simon in late July, only a few days after Simon assumed her post, asking her to refuse if Trudeau called for a snap election. Singh told Simon that one of the “first and most important decisions you will have to make” would be rejecting Trudeau’s argument that Parliament is not functioning and should be dissolved.
“Additionally, just two months ago the House approved by a margin of 327-1 a motion stating that ‘holding an election during a pandemic would be irresponsible,” Singh observed in the July letter. Singh said the next election should be held in October 2023 as scheduled under normal Canadian election procedures.
Trudeau was taking something of a victory lap at the time, touting his administration’s successful measures against the coronavirus, but now he dismisses Parliament as a hotbed of “toxicity” and “obstructionism” and desires a snap election to reduce the opposition’s power. Current polls suggest Trudeau’s Liberals might be able to win enough seats to give Trudeau’s minority government a majority.
CBC quoted Singh and another opposition leader, the Conservative party’s Erin O’Toole, accusing Trudeau of playing politics while Canada’s coronavirus infections surge:
“While Justin Trudeau wants to act like it’s over… it’s not over and people are still worried,” [Singh] said from St. John’s this morning. “If Justin Trudeau was listening to people and their concerns and their worries, he would not be holding a selfish summer election.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole also criticized the idea of calling a federal election during a fourth wave of the pandemic but said he’s ready to take on the Liberals.
“Justin Trudeau’s planning an election in the middle of a pandemic because he’s focused on politics,” he tweeted. “It’s time we had a prime minister planning an economic recovery focused on Canadians. We’re ready.”
Canada’s chief public health official, Dr. Theresa Tam, said she believes the snap election could be held safely, but on Thursday she conceded that Canada is experiencing a new coronavirus wave driven by the notorious “Delta variant.”
“The latest national surveillance data indicate that a fourth wave is underway in Canada and that cases are plotting along a strong resurgence trajectory. Nationally, there are now over 13,000 active cases – more than double from two weeks ago,” Tam said.
“It’s not my role to advise on whether an election should occur or not,” Tam added. “The role of the public health agencies is to provide guidance should an election take place, and how to do that safely.”
Tam and other public health officials argued the majority of Canada’s new coronavirus infections are hitting unvaccinated people and Canada has high vaccination rates, so the “fourth wave” should be manageable.
“Liberal strategists have privately acknowledged that voters could punish the party for perceived opportunism, particularly if the pandemic worsens or the campaign triggers a super-spreader event,” the Canadian Press reported on Thursday.
La Presse, one of the first publications to report Trudeau’s plan to dissolve parliament this weekend, estimated on Friday that a September snap election would be the most expensive in Canadian history, carrying a $612 million price tag that would be fully $100 million more than Canada spent on its last election two years ago. Fully half of the increased cost would be “directly attributable to the health measures that must be implemented across the country due to the Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] pandemic.”
NDP deputy leader Alexandre Boulerice told the French-language La Presse that spending such extravagant sums for a snap election in the midst of a public health crisis “makes no sense.”
Boulerice colorfully accused Trudeau of not merely flirting with indecency, but “kissing her and embracing her.”
“Six hundred and twelve million dollars is practically the cost of providing dental care to all Canadians for a year. Instead of being able to offer such care to all Canadian citizens, the Liberals prefer to waste this amount trying to buy a majority in the House of Commons,” he said.
“Canadians do not want a risky election in the midst of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is totally irresponsible that Mr. Trudeau is using so much public money to try to retain power for himself and his Liberal friends,” Conservative leader O’Toole added in an email to La Presse.
O’Toole told a press conference on Monday that Trudeau and his party have “neglected” rural Canadians, while Singh wrote an open letter to Trudeau accusing him of misleading the public by portraying Parliament as dysfunctional.
“You had to negotiate improvements to these benefits to get our support. This isn’t a symptom of ‘dysfunction.’ This is Parliament working the way Canadians expect it to – MPs from different parties working together in a time of crisis,” Singh wrote on Monday.
“If Parliament is dysfunctional, then you yourself have played a leading role in that dysfunction. Telling Canadians that a minority government can’t work is misleading and breeds cynicism in our democracy,” Singh told Trudeau.
Canada’s Globe and Mail agreed with the opposition in an editorial last week, noting that money was already being spent on the “unnecessary vote,” such as an order placed by the Canadian elections commission for 16 million single-use golf pencils to fill out ballots.
“No one is asking for a snap election. But if Mr. Trudeau wants to call one, and jeopardize the health of voters and poll workers for political gain, that’s his prerogative,” the Globe and Mail sniffed. “It falls to Elections Canada to turn the Prime Minister’s hubris into reality, while keeping Canadians as safe as possible from the surging COVID-19 Delta variant.”
The editors pleaded with Trudeau to allow the legal maximum of 50 days between dissolution of Parliament and the snap vote, instead of the 36 days he is reportedly planning, to give Elections Canada more time to arrange a safe vote.
An even more fiery op-ed at the National Post on Friday accused Trudeau of wasting public money, and jeopardizing public health, to satisfy his own vanity and hunger for power while distracting the public from issues where the Liberal government has done a poor job:
There are major issues to be addressed, issues that will decide whether Canada’s easy century or so of prosperity and peace can be extended much longer, but you won’t hear Justin Trudeau talking about them. He’ll be busy reminding you of the great job he did in buying vaccines, sending out unemployment checks and offering support payments to everyone from teenagers to senior citizens. And promising more checks to come. If it’s band-aids you want and a prime minister stuffed up with his own importance, this is an election for you. If it’s substance you want, you’ll just have to wait.
Political analysts and nervous Liberal politicians told Reuters in early August that Trudeau’s gambit could backfire because he faces no serious opposition as prime minister, so voters could feel comfortable voting for opponents running to the left of his party. Such complacency might also inspire voters in Quebec to go with the Bloc Quebecois instead of voting for a Liberal party that is all but guaranteed to remain in power, at least as a minority government.
“Without a bogeyman, it becomes harder for us,” a senior Liberal lamented.
The snap election could also realign the opposition, as Singh is more popular than O’Toole, and for that matter considerably more popular than Trudeau, so the New Democrats may be able to win some seats from the Conservatives. This would blunt Trudeau’s efforts to persuade left-wing voters that Conservatives could take over the government and impose spending cuts, with the net effect of costing Trudeau seats in Parliament instead of giving him the majority government he wants.