OTTAWA — Federal party leaders on Friday made a plea for voters to go to the polls even though they debated whether the election in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic was needed at all.
With just days to go before Monday's vote, polls suggest Justin Trudeau's Liberals and Erin O'Toole's Conservatives are running neck and neck and neither could land a majority mandate.
Trudeau called the election on Aug. 15, sparking a 36-day campaign that he argued Friday morning wouldn't be an exercise in futility even if voters choose another minority government. Speaking in the border city of Windsor, Ont., Trudeau said the policy debates Canadians have had over the past five weeks will underpin the next government's agenda.
The Liberal leader acknowledged that some voters may not think an election is necessary for the country to move past the pandemic, but he added that it is important to make a choice on Monday and asked progressive voters anew to support his party.
"People just want to get back to normal and even at the best of times Canadians are never very enthusiastic about an election," Trudeau said.
"I understand the frustration that some people are feeling — (they) just want things to get back to normal and an election isn't getting back to normal. It's a time of choice. It's a time of decision."
Trudeau also faced questions about a Toronto-area candidate who paused his campaign at the Liberals' request after the party learned he had faced a sexual assault charge that had been dropped.
Speaking later in London, Ont., O'Toole said people are frustrated with having an election during a fourth wave of COVID-19 and argued Trudeau shouldn't be rewarded with another mandate. He also urged people to vote Monday and back his party's bid for power as opposed to the unnamed "smaller parties" he said the Liberals want voters to support.
"Your vote is the only way to stop Mr. Trudeau from gaining even more power," he said. "Your vote is the only way to get the change we desperately need in this country."
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh expressed concern about how the lack of on-campus voting could make it more difficult for post-secondary students to cast a ballot on Monday, addressing a constituency the New Democrats have relied on in past elections. Singh said the issue is another reason why Trudeau shouldn't have called a pandemic election.
"It makes it harder for people to vote, but I still want to encourage people to vote," Singh said Friday in Sherbrooke, Que. "There are lots of ways to vote. You can still do it."
Elections Canada has warned it may take five days to finish counting all ballots cast in-person and by mail, meaning the country may not know Monday how many seats each party won in the 338-seat House of Commons.
Constitutionally, Trudeau as prime minister would get the first opportunity to test the confidence of the House of Commons after an election if no party wins a majority of seats. If the Liberals can't muster enough opposition support for a throne speech, for instance, the Conservatives would get a shot at forming government. And if that fails, the country would likely again be plunged into an election.
When asked about governing in a minority, Trudeau said he was focused on winning seats and wasn't going to engage in hypothetical questions. Singh, when asked about the possibility of a minority government situation, replied with his party's positions. O'Toole, meanwhile, said he wanted to earn the trust of voters but added that he would look at the results and "always put the country first."
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet told reporters he would work with a minority government — which he said he expected — if it agreed to not step in to areas of provincial jurisdiction and boost health-care transfers.
Blanchet said he was certain compromise could be achieved between the parties to avoid any political drama that would spur another federal vote.
"I want to meet with every party leader, after the election, and just discuss how we should work in order to prevent Quebecers and Canadians from having to go through this once again anytime soon," Blanchet said Friday.
Blanchet also poked fun at Trudeau and O'Toole for each campaigning with a former prime minister — Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney, respectively — suggesting the former party leaders were more interesting that the current ones.
Trudeau and O'Toole are hoping high-profile endorsements help tip the scales in their favour on Monday.
On Friday, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton tweeted that she wished Trudeau and "progressive Canadian neighbors the best in Monday's election," echoing a tweet a day earlier from former U.S. president Barack Obama.
Her one-time rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, tweeted his support for the NDP, saying Singh was the only leader "who has the courage to make the wealthy pay their fair share so everyone gets the medication they need."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2021.
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press