Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may cling to power in Monday’s election but looks set to lose his bid for a parliamentary majority after a tough campaign that dashed his hopes for a convincing win.
Trudeau has a minority administration, forcing him to rely on other parties and make policy compromises to govern. With opinion polls last month showing him far ahead, he triggered the vote two years early, saying voters needed to weigh in on his left-of-center Liberal government’s handling of COVID-19.
But as unhappiness about the early call grew, he failed to maintain his big lead. Liberal strategists concede it will be hard to win most of the 338 seats in the House of Commons.
In recent days, Trudeau, 49 – whose government racked up record debt fighting COVID-19 – focused on the need for everyone to get inoculated. He backs vaccine mandates, while Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, 48, prefers rapid testing.
“We need clear, strong leadership that is going to continue to unequivocally push vaccines, and that’s what we will do. Mr. O’Toole, he can’t, and he won’t,” Trudeau told supporters in Niagara Falls, Ontario, on Sunday during a frantic last day that saw him travel 2,800 miles (4,500 km) across Canada.
If Trudeau does fall short of a majority, it would represent a defeat that is certain to raise questions about his future.
The charismatic progressive politician, son of former longtime Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, swept to power in 2015. But he was reduced to a minority in 2019 after old photos of him in blackface emerged.
Polls show the Liberals are tied with the Conservatives, which theoretically gives Trudeau an advantage, since Liberal strength is in urban centers that are home to most seats.
“There’s no world in which this is not tight,” said a senior Liberal strategist. “Is a majority possible? Yes. Is it the likeliest scenario? No.”
Liberals concede voters might be turned off by the election call. Low turnout tends to favor the Conservatives.
To complicate matters, both parties face vote splits. The Liberals compete with the left-leaning New Democrats, while the anti-vaccination right-wing People’s Party of Canada (PPC) could hurt the Conservatives.
“Justin Trudeau wants you to stay home tomorrow. Justin Trudeau wants you to vote PPC,” O’Toole told supporters on Sunday. Polls in Canada’s most-populous regions will close between 9:30 and 10 p.m. EDT (0130-0200 GMT Tuesday).
An early indication of Liberal fortunes will come after 7:30 p.m. EDT (2330 GMT), when votes in the four Atlantic provinces are counted. The Liberals hold 27 of the 32 seats there.
Trudeau has taken a cautious line in public, sidestepping questions about a possible majority.
“I want as many Liberals as possible to be elected across the country because we need a strong government,” he told reporters in Montreal on Sunday. In private, aides are less shy.
“You don’t call an election during a pandemic just to get another minority government,” said one.