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ImageCredit…Pool photo by Sean Kilpatrick
Justin Trudeau will remain Canada’s prime minister following the vote in an early election on Monday, Canadian broadcasters projected.
Because many voters were still in line casting ballots, perhaps for several more hours, it is unclear whether Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party would regain a majority in Parliament — Mr. Trudeau’s objective. Preliminary results suggested that the Liberals would probably not achieve that.
The prime minister called the election last month, two years ahead of schedule, expecting that the boost in his popularity provided by his handling of the pandemic would give him the majority he was denied in 2018. But those promising numbers immediately fell as Canadians expressed dismay about the election being held while the Delta variant of the coronavirus was straining hospitals and prompting the authorities to restore restrictions in some areas.
While disgruntlement about the election call dominated the five-week campaign, the pandemic intensified as a campaign issue over the final days. Mr. Trudeau has proposed mandatory vaccination for some and championed vaccine passports. Erin O’Toole, the Conservative leader, rejected both.
Mr. Trudeau first came to power in 2015 by presenting himself as a new voice in politics with a fresh approach and policies.
This time around, Mr. Trudeau is part of the political establishment. So he focused on telling voters, explicitly or otherwise, that a return to a Conservative government under Mr. O’Toole would wipe away his achievements in a variety of areas including gun control, gender equity, climate change, child care, poverty reduction and, above all, ending the pandemic and getting Canadians vaccinated.
Credit…Ian Willms/Getty Images
After years of the gravity-defying yoga poses, shirtless jogs and propensity for scandal and apologies, many Canadians have developed a bad case of Justin Trudeau fatigue. But as they went to the polls on Monday, many said they grudgingly saw him as the least worse option.
Mr. Trudeau called a snap election two years early, banking on the fact that his deft handling of the pandemic and the economy would buttress his standing and allow him to go from a minority to a majority government. Instead, voters at polling stations across the country on Monday said they were angry at his hubris for doing so as the deadly virus still raged.
“I think he took an awful gamble, and I don’t think he’s going to come out on the good side of this one, unfortunately,” said Lois Bell, 71, a retiree from Mississauga, in an electoral district west of Toronto with a large immigrant community that has elected a member of Parliament from Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party in the last two federal elections. “We’re not impressed.”
Robert Bell, also 71, criticized Mr. Trudeau’s handling of the pandemic, pointing out that thousands of older people had died in nursing homes.
On the other side of the country, in British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, Sandy Goldman, 64, a retired elementary schoolteacher and radio show host from Vancouver, called Mr. Trudeau’s decision to call an election “deplorable.”
“People are upset, they’re anxious, they’re tired,” she said.
Mr. Trudeau has many achievements since 2015 to point to, like helping Canada attain among the highest vaccination rates in the world and legalizing cannabis. As a standard-bearer for liberalism on the global stage, Mr. Trudeau has also sought to portray himself as a champion of reconciliation with Indigenous people.
But Cezin Nottaway, 42, an Indigenous chef from Quebec, said many Indigenous people were disappointed with Mr. Trudeau, whom she described as “an entitled little brat who talks the talk but doesn’t deliver.” She said she was drawn to Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the left-leaning New Democrats and a Sikh whose progressive stance on issues like climate change threatens to co-opt younger voters from Mr. Trudeau.
“I like him because he is a brown dude, and he understands what our people have been through,” Ms. Nottaway said.
Shadi Hafez, 26, an Indigenous advocate in Ottawa, said he was abstaining from the vote altogether, seeing it as a colonial project that didn’t address his concerns. He lamented that Mr. Trudeau has made big promises, even as Indigenous people still grappled with challenges like contaminated drinking water and poor access to health care.
All eyes could be on British Columbia when the polls close tonight. The large province, a potentially swing province which can influence election outcomes, has had a left-wing provincial government for the past four years, but was previously governed by a right-wing party for 16 years. Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals swept Vancouver in 2015 and its surrounding areas, though the Conservatives gained ground in 2019.
Ms. Goldman, of Vancouver, said Canada was deeply polarized as people went to vote.
“I’m feeling very worried for my country,” she said. “I think we’ve gone from ‘We’re all in this together’ to being very divided.”
A style of politics long considered in decline is experiencing something of a reprieve, even seeing glimmers of a possible return.
The gray-suited technocrats of the center-left are once more a serious force, at the expense of both establishment conservatism and the right-wing populism that arose in backlash to the status quo.
This month alone, center-left parties have taken power in Norway and appear on the verge of doing so in Germany. They hold the White House, share power in Italy and lead a newly credible opposition movement in authoritarian-leaning Hungary.
Calling it a comeback would be premature, analysts warn. Center-left gains are uneven and may be tied to short-term political tailwinds, like the coronavirus pandemic.
Canada, where the center-left faces a battle to keep power on Monday, may best encapsulate the trend. The forces bolstering center-lefts globally have nudged the Liberals’ poll numbers there from poor to middling — a fitting metaphor for the movement’s prospects.
Still, even modest center-left gains among Western democracies could give a long-struggling political wing the chance to redeem itself and counteract a dominant trend of the past decade: the rise in ethno-nationalism and strongman politics of the new populist right.
“People have been writing for several years now about how the Social Democrats are going to die out for good, and now here they are, they’re the leading party,” said Brett Meyer of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, referring to the center-left’s sudden rise in Germany.
“That’s been an enormous surprise,” he added.
If Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, keeps his job, it may be due in large part to political changes brought about by Covid-19.
Voters worldwide have been tilting toward establishment parties in response to pandemic uncertainty, a shift that two political scientists, James Bisbee and Dan Honig, identified by analyzing dozens of primaries and races.
But Mr. Trudeau’s luckiest stroke may be how the pandemic is dividing the political right.
In the 2010s, right-wing coalitions broadly unified over identity issues like immigration. But pandemic-related questions — on vaccines, lockdowns and economic intervention — have split moderates from the activist base.
Canada’s Conservative Party, led by Erin O’Toole, has tacked left on climate and social issues. But Mr. O’Toole’s ambiguity on pandemic issues may allow the anti-vaccine-mandate People’s Party to siphon off votes.
The realignment that many nations are seeing is taking at least one clear form. The once-formidable right-wing populist wave has, for the moment, stalled.
Credit…Amber Bracken for The New York Times
The discovery in May of the remains of students in unmarked graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia shocked many Canadians who live outside of Indigenous communities. Since then, well over 1,000 human remains, mostly of children, have been found at former sites of other residential schools.
The discoveries reignited awareness of the tragic history of the residential schools — where the Canadian government forcibly sent at least 150,000 Indigenous children in an effort to assimilate them — and renewed a national discussion. In 2008, a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission called the entire system, which persisted from the late 19th century through the 1990s, “cultural genocide.”
But, for the most part, that renewed conversation did not carry over to the campaign.
During the debate conducted in English, candidates tackled a block of questions about Indigenous issues but revealed little more than that they agree in the importance of reconciliation with Indigenous people, long one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s priorities.
Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party, has repeatedly challenged Mr. Trudeau for failing to bring clean drinking water to all Indigenous communities after his nearly six years as prime minister — despite promising to do so in five years.
“It’s certainly not the capacity, it’s certainly not the lack of technology, it’s certainly not the money, because we have the resources,” Mr. Singh said during a campaign stop at Neskantaga First Nation in Northern Ontario. “Then what is it? I don’t buy for a second that it is anything other than the political will.”
Mr. Singh has offered few specifics about how he would succeed where Mr. Trudeau has struggled. The government has allocated just over two billion Canadian dollars, about $1.5 billion, to the effort and created a new cabinet position, the minister of Indigenous services.
Mr. Trudeau often boasts that the government has brought clean water to 109 First Nations communities. But as the government has resolved problems in some areas, problems have popped up elsewhere. Today 52 long-term drinking-water advisories are in effect in these communities, compared with 105 when he took office in 2015.
In this election for the House of Commons there are 50 Indigenous candidates, according to the Assembly of First Nations.
But Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the New Democratic Party member who represents Nunavut, is not seeking re-election, in part because of the difficulties she has faced as an Indigenous lawmaker.
“The systems are built to work for certain people,” she told The Globe and Mail in June. “It’s middle-aged white men.”
Credit…Pool photo by Justin Tang
Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Monday’s vote two years ahead of schedule, the move was widely anticipated and most of Canada’s political parties had prepared accordingly. For the Green Party, however, the timing could not have been worse.
As extreme weather events raged in the Western provinces, including record-setting heat waves, wildfires, and droughts that reinforced the importance of climate change on the national agenda, the Greens were distracted by embarrassing public infighting.
Since June, the party has been buffeted by turmoil following a rift between Annamie Paul, its leader, and its executive. The internal acrimony reached the point where Ms. Paul took legal action against her own party to successfully quash a review of her leadership scheduled for July.
In a recent interview with Canada’s national broadcaster, Ms. Paul said she had contemplated quitting but wanted to see her party through the snap election.
Initially it had appeared that Ms. Paul might revive the party which elected a record three members to House of Commons in 2019. As a Black, Jewish woman, she helped buttress the diversity of the party which, by some measures, fielded one of the least diverse slates of candidates in past elections. A human rights lawyer, Ms. Paul had a distinguished career that included time as a diplomat.
Unlike Elizabeth May, who previously headed the party for 15 years, Ms. Paul was not a well-known environmental activist. And rather than focusing on climate issues, as was the case with Ms. May, Ms. Paul has steered her platform toward economic and social justice.
The Green Party’s platform, released late in the brief campaign, called for a 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030. But critics said the party failed to provide a viable blueprint for reaching its objectives.
At the same time, the party’s climate change agenda has been overshadowed by some of its rivals, including Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals, which in July set an ambitious target of reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions to between 40 and 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Canada may be known for its cold weather, but this summer, parts of the country were an inferno.
The Western provinces suffered record-setting heat waves, which were a confirmed cause of death for 569 people in British Columbia. Wildfires burned more than two million forest acres in that province and razed a small town, while droughts devastated cattle ranchers in Manitoba.
The extreme weather intensified Canadians’ already high level of interest and concern about climate change. But during the campaign, climate barely registered.
Analysts say that was because of deft maneuvering by the Conservative Party.
Erin O’Toole, the party’s leader, turned his back on a promise to never impose carbon taxes in a plan he unveiled this spring. While the Conservative version prices carbon lower than Mr. Trudeau’s plan does, and has a very different system for rebating the tax to individuals, the prime minister can no longer say that the Conservatives will not tax carbon and lack a climate plan.
“I think the Conservative Party has put forward a more ambitious platform than in 2019, in part to take that off the agenda,” said Kathryn Harrison, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia.
The Conservative plan, introduced well before the election, proposes to cut emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels within nine years, Canada’s original Paris Agreement target.
But Mr. Trudeau has since increased the nation’s target for the same time frame to between 40 and 45 percent. Saying that the Conservatives’ plan would set the country back on its progress to fight climate change, he invoked the unpopular policies of his predecessor, Stephen Harper, whose administration muzzled environmental scientists.
The Green Party, which has made climate change its top issue, called for a 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030.
It’s an ambitious target, but lacking detail, said Nicholas Rivers, a Canada Research Chair in Climate and Energy Policy and an associate professor at the University of Ottawa.
The Green Party has been distracted by infighting that has prompted its leader, Annamie Paul, to consider quitting. The party released its platform on Sept. 7, late in the brief campaign.
“It makes it difficult to believe they have a credible plan to get there,” Professor Rivers said. “I feel the Greens have partly ceded their leadership on the climate issue.”
Even if he manages to win the vote, many pundits across Canada have had a common refrain this week: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is, long term, the likely loser of the 2021 federal election.
In the United States and beyond, Mr. Trudeau is perceived as a telegenic rock star, who became a foil for President Trump during his presidency, and one of a handful of global liberal leading lights.
But at home, his decision to call a snap election in the midst of a pandemic was seen as a political folly that would diminish his stature, potentially undermine his already fragile plurality in Parliament and weaken his ability to govern.
Mr. Trudeau’s political fate largely rests on his ability to win over capricious voters in Quebec and Ontario, the two most populous Canadian provinces. Both have large ethnic minority communities whose support has been essential for the Liberal Party.
Writing in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail, a leading national newspaper, the columnist Campbell Clark argued that the prime minister nor his rivals had offered a compelling narrative, only sniping.
“Justin Trudeau started the campaign Aug. 15 telling us that this is perhaps the most ‘pivotal’ moment the country has faced since the Second World War,” he wrote. “But he struggled to make clear what point the future turned on.”
Writing in Montreal-based La Presse, Canada’s leading French-language newspaper, Joel-Denis Bellavance asked why Mr. Trudeau had called an election when the fourth wave was raging, Parliament was functioning well, even with a minority government, and no opposition parties wanted a new vote. Justin Trudeau, he answered, “had been incapable of justifying” his call for a vote “in a convincing manner.”
That skepticism of Mr. Trudeau was also echoed in The Guardian, a newspaper from Charlotteville, Prince Edward Island, in Atlantic Canada. “Trudeau, 49, called an early election, seeking to convert approval for his government’s handling of the pandemic into a parliamentary majority,” the paper wrote. “But he is now scrambling to save his job.”
Despite the perception of Canada as a country of multicultural harmony, other analysts said they expected the vote to have echoes of the last elections in 2019, which exposed deep regional divisions between the urban, left-leaning East and more conservative views in parts of western Canada like Alberta.
“So, what was the point of this exercise?” asked the columnist Tom Brodbeck. “The most likely outcome after the polls close tonight is Canadians will have another Liberal minority government, a divided country and an additional $610 million in federal debt (the estimated cost of holding the federal election). Worse, Canada will have lost precious time fighting the pandemic.”
Justin Trudeau Casts Ballot in Canadian Election
The prime minister called for the snap election two years early, saying that he needed a strong mandate to bring the pandemic under control and lead Canada to economic recovery.
The prime minister called for the snap election two years early, saying that he needed a strong mandate to bring the pandemic under control and lead Canada to economic recovery.CreditCredit…Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press
The polls are open, and Canadians will decide today whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will get another term, and how much of a presence in Parliament his Liberal Party should have.
Mr. Trudeau arrived at a polling station around 11 a.m. in his electoral district of Papineau in Montreal to cast his ballot, accompanied by his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, and their three children. His youngest son, Hadrien, assisted him with depositing his ballot in the ballot box.
Turnout today may be lower than usual because of people seeking to avoid crowds and vote early. This election, 5.8 million Canadians cast their ballots in the four days of early voting last week — an 18 percent increase in early turnout compared with the previous election.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean shorter lines. There are about 1,200 fewer polling locations across the country this year compared with in 2019, for a total of 14,300, according to a recent estimate by Elections Canada. The locations have been chosen for their size and ability to space people out to respect local Covid-19 protocols.
Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada called a snap election last month — two years ahead of schedule — he has struggled to explain why he thinks it’s necessary.
The last general election, in 2019, left his Liberal Party in a weakened position. Mr. Trudeau says he needs a strong mandate this time to bring the pandemic under control and lead Canada to economic recovery.
But his rivals have called the election a power grab. Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party heads into Election Day in a statistical tie with the Conservative Party, led by Erin O’Toole.
What issues are in play?
Covid-19: The pandemic response is one point of contention between the two candidates. Mr. Trudeau supports vaccine mandates for travel and for federal workers, as well as vaccine passports. Mr. O’Toole opposes them. Canada has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, but in some areas, case numbers are up and hospitals are near capacity.
Climate change: Mr. Trudeau has made this issue a priority, introducing, among other measures, a national carbon tax. The Conservatives, who opposed such taxes for years, came to this campaign with their first carbon tax plan.
Gun control: Mr. O’Toole promised to repeal a ban on 1,500 models of military-style assault rifles but he seemed to abandon that plan quickly; polling in Canada shows strong support for tight gun restrictions.
The economy: Canada has recovered nearly all the jobs lost by the pandemic. Spending on vaccines and economic support, though, has left large debts and deficits. After criticizing those deficits, Mr. O’Toole unveiled similar spending plans. He also promised to balance the budget within 10 years, which most economists say is not credible.
How about foreign policy?
The Conservatives say Mr. Trudeau has been ineffective in dealing with Beijing. China’s incarceration of two Canadian businessmen has been a source of tension for several years, seen as retaliation for Canada’s detention of a top executive at the Chinese tech giant Huawei.
Afghanistan has also been an issue. Mr. Trudeau called the snap election the same weekend that Kabul fell to the Taliban. His opponents said the timing interfered with Canada’s mission to rescue Afghans and criticized the government for not acting earlier.
How soon could we know the results?
Paper ballots from all electoral districts must be counted by hand before the results become clear, which is likely to be well into Monday evening or early Tuesday.
Should I take my own pencil as a pandemic precaution?
Election officials say voters are welcome to take their own pencils to mark their ballots, but they will provide single-use pencils at the polls. They have ordered 16 million short golf pencils and more than 3.6 million large-grip ones, far more than in 2019.