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Canada Set to Deliver Verdict in Testy Vote as PM’s Cakewalk Becomes Nail-Biter

CC0 / Flickr / kurnmit / Canadian flag and the Parliament Hill on the southern banks of the Ottawa River in downtown Ottawa
Canadian flag and the Parliament Hill on the southern banks of the Ottawa River in downtown Ottawa - Sputnik International, 1920, 20.09.2021
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TORONTO (Sputnik) – Canada will choose its next government on Monday, putting an end to an inflammatory campaign in which Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau was expected to coast to a majority government but finds himself in a tight race as voters head to the polls.

At The Wire

On Monday, all 338 of Canada’s House of Commons seats will be up for grabs with the winner of the election declared based on a much maligned first-past-the-post system, where candidates with the highest number of votes win without any further runoff ballots.
At the time Governor General dissolved parliament, the governing Liberals held 155 federal seats – 15 fewer than the number needed for a majority government. Most analysts believe Trudeau triggered the election to reclaim the majority mandate lost in the 2019 federal election.
However, despite the opportunistic timing of the election call – most pollsters had Trudeau several points ahead of the nearest competition at the time of the writ drop – the substantial lead quickly dissipated, and the governing Liberals have been forced to fight from behind throughout most of the campaign.
The race comes down to Trudeau and and Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole, with most projections showing the Liberals and Tories in a virtual tie.
The Liberals holds a slight 30.8 percent to 30.5 percent lead over the Conservative Party of Canada, which is within the margin of error, according to a Nanos Research-CTV News-The Globe and Mail poll.
Similarly, the latest Angus Reid Institute, Abacus Data, Ipsos, Leger and Mainstreet polls show the Liberals and Tories within two percentage points of each other.
However, some are seeing the incumbent Liberals pulling away from the pack - EKOS Research has the Liberals nearly 3 points up on the Conservatives and a full 7 percent points clear in the vote-rich province of Ontario.

Trudeau Brand Crumbles

Trudeau’s ascension to world leader status began on 2 May 2011. The son of one of Canada’s most renowned political figures, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the younger Trudeau was one of only 34 Liberal parliamentarians elected in the 2011 federal election.
The Liberals’, often referred to as Canada’s “natural governing party,” historic defeat at the polls opened the door for Trudeau, who was tasked with resuscitating the party at the party convention in 2013.
Trudeau lived up to expectations, winning a majority government in 2015.
The now Canadian leader’s meteoric rise is often attributed to his personal “brand.” The Montreal, Quebec native was young, charismatic, bold – participating in antics such as a 2012 charity boxing match with a Conservative senator – and an international media darling, breaking the mold of traditional Canadian politicians.
However, since his election the Prime Minister has been involved in a myriad of scandals, including several high-profile allegations of corruption, turning a blind eye to sexual misconduct allegations – despite his claims of being a “feminist” – and the infamous “blackface” controversy.
Throughout the campaign Trudeau, who leaves few people indifferent, has been dogged by protests, including some wild scenes of the Canadian prime minister being subjected to obscenities and in one instance pelted with gravel.
Cory Morgan says that Trudeau rode the coattails of his famous family name and a personal appeal into office but is increasingly becoming a burden to the Liberal Party.
“While the Trudeau brand may be losing its shine right now, the Liberal brand itself is as strong as ever. People are supporting the party rather than the leader at this time and it likely will maintain the status quo in this election,” Morgan, a political commentator and a columnist with the Western Standard, told Sputnik.
“Trudeau's tougher task will be convincing the party to keep him after the election even if he maintains his minority government,” Morgan added.

Conservatives Shift to Center in Bid to Unseat Trudeau

The Conservative Party, meanwhile, has increasingly shifted to the centre in a bid to unseat Trudeau.
O’Toole, who was elected party chief just one year earlier, has presented himself as a centrist and strong leader able to steer the party away from renewed conversation around social issues including same-sex marriage and abortion rights, which are considered to be settled in Canada, to policies where the Tories do well, such as the economy.
However, the shift has not gone according to plan is not resonating with voters, analysts told Sputnik.
Jacqueline Biollo, a Principal Consultant with Aurora Strategy Group, purports that Tories move to the centre has not been well received by potential voters.
“These efforts have seen [disingenuous] and the undecided voters may not step up to the plate to support the Conservatives in numbers that would substantially help the party win the election,” Biollo told Sputnik.
“They haven’t handled it well at all,” political strategist and columnist Clinton Desveaux said, speaking about the attempted shift.
Desveaux said O’Toole has flip-flopped on several key issues, including gun control and the country’s carbon emissions pricing plan. The political strategist added that the Conservatives have been unable to substantively explain their position on vaccination mandates, including proposed plans to introduce proof of immunization documents, better known as "vaccine passports."

Spoilers Aplenty

The 2021 federal election has been difficult to project for pollsters and analysts because of the various vote splitting scenarios in play.
The Conservatives face a challenge from the populist conservative People’s Party of Canada (PPC), which could hinder the establishment Conservatives bid to unseat Trudeau’s Liberals come election day, political strategists told Sputnik.
Support for the PPC ranges between 5 and 9 percent, most pollsters say, with the party led by Maxime Bernier eating just enough into Conservative Party support to cost them the election.
The PPC surge has the Conservatives in “panic mode,” according to Desveaux. The political strategist believes that in Conservative strongholds such as Alberta, where the People’s Party commands as much as 19 percent support, there may be enough of a vote split in closely contested areas - usually in the cities of Calgary and Edmonton - to see the Tories lose important seats to rival Liberals and New Democrats.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Party has its own vote-splitting concerns.
Trudeau faces a stiff challenge from the left-wing New Democrat Party, led by Jagmeet Singh. Throughout the campaign Singh has presented his party as the authentic “progressive” party, hitting Trudeau for consistently missing climate targets, the federal government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline project and the Liberals mixed results on reconciliation with the country’s indigenous community.
"The reality of vote-splitting on the left is more crucial for the Liberals to consider their messaging to their base and differentiate themselves from the NDP if they want to secure a majority, or even minority government win at this point," Biollo said.
In addition to the NDP, the Liberals have to be weary of the Bloc Quebecois
The Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois are locked in a tight battle in Quebec, with the former holding a slight edge in the province. Trudeau’s Liberals and the Bloc often fight for the same voters in Quebec, and it is widely believed that the Prime Minister’s path to re-election runs through the province.
While the Bloc struggled out of the gate, a debate question posed to leader Yves-Francois Blanchet about his party’s support for the "discriminatory" Bill 21 and 96 legislations has changed its political fortunes.
The moderator’s characterization of the pieces of legislation, which opponents say limits the rights of the English-speaking population and religious minorities but are generally popular among Quebeckers, ignited a political firestorm in French-speaking Quebec drawing angry responses from provincial leaders and breathing new life into the Bloc Quebecois’ campaign.

Greens in Survival Mode After Civil War

The Green Party of Canada, which many predicted to be a rising force in the country’s political landscape after receiving nearly 1.2 million votes in the 2019 federal election, has been a shell of its former self during the 2021 campaign.
The Party has been embroiled in civil war since the spring, allegedly triggered by differences over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict earlier this year, which couldn’t have come at worse time, political insiders tell Sputnik.
The Party’s internal strife began with leader Annamie Paul, who was elected party leader less than 12 months ago, adopting a more conventional response to the renewed hostilities between Israel and Palestinian groups – calling for restraint on both sides.
The approach did not sit well with the Party membership, Dimitri Lascaris, a former Green Party leadership candidate told Sputnik, explaining that Green Party supporters have overwhelmingly embraced the international movement to oppose Israel’s actions with respect to Palestine — Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
The dysfunction was exacerbated by Paul’s former advisor, Noah Zatsman, who vowed to work to defeat Green Party parliamentarians and candidates, who criticized Israel and the defection of Jenica Atwin to the Liberals, citing the Party’s muted stance and Zatsman’s comments. Atwin was one of only three Green Party parliamentarians at the time of her defection.
However, a source close to the party said in an interview that the Israel-Palestine conflict was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The division within the Green Party are longstanding and stem from differences between politicians seeking actual political gains and dogmatic activists, seeking moral “wins,” the source said.
Ahead of the election the Greens descended into a full-fledged civil conflict, with Federal Council openly at odds with Paul and court documents revealing that the party and Paul filed lawsuits against each other.
The internal hostilities significant impaired the functioning of the Greens ahead of the election, the source said, revealing that fundraising and volunteer recruitment is significantly down.
Desveaux said the Green appears to be functioning as a loose band of individual candidates, calling the Party’s campaign an “unmitigated disaster,” and predicting that Paul’s days as leader are numbered. 

Key Issues For Voters

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic appears to be the issue on voters’ minds as the country enters election day.
Other key priorities include the environment and the economy, although concrete policy discussion hasn’t featured heavily during the campaign. Issues including the country’s reconciliation with its First Peoples and affordability – acute topics ahead of the election – have featured far less frequently in the past 35 days.
“The two defining issues are: Who is best positioned to handle the [pandemic] and who is best positioned to open up our economy, while dealing with the COVID problem,” Desveaux said.
Meanwhile, PPC leader Maxime Bernier, whose party has become one of the top stories of the election, believes that Canadians’ apathy towards their political system is driving the talk of the campaign.
"I believe that people want to send a strong signal to these establishment politicians - they don’t want more government control. I believe they want more freedom," Bernier said in an interview with Sputnik. "I believe that some of our candidates will be elected and we will have a real freedom voice in Ottawa, a common sense voice in Ottawa that will be ready to fight for all Canadians."
Bernier, whose party has vehemently opposed mandatory vaccination measures, adds that Canadians are "fed up" with mask mandates, which are still in place in most parts of the country despite its high vaccination rates, as well as talk of mandatory vaccination and vaccine passports.
Others may not have an issue close to heart and vote for a specific candidate, Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said.
“Different voters cite different issues. Some don’t cite issues at all, they refer to the leader they trust or like more,” Wiseman told Sputnik.

Canadians Increasingly Voting ‘Against’ Not ‘For’

Desveaux also notes that Canadians are voting for “against” policies, issues, parties and candidates as opposed to voting for positive change.
“Voters are voting ‘against’ something across all party lines,” Desveaux said, highlighting PPC supporters’ contempt for vaccination mandates, centrists’ concerns about the Conservative Party and left-wing backlash against the governing Liberals.
“It is a mix. Some vote to keep the Conservatives out, others vote to keep the Liberals in. Some may say they are voting for a particular party because it is more sympathetic to enriching social policy programs like health care and education,” Wiseman said, noting that the possibilities are infinite.

Foreign Policy

Regardless of the election results, Canada’s foreign policy, which has received very little attention throughout the campaign is likely to remain the same after 20 September, foreign policy experts told Sputnik.
While questions about Canada’s messy withdrawal from Afghanistan dominated discussion during the first few weeks of the campaign, other foreign relations priorities have largely been ignored and in the final days ahead of election day discussion has almost entirely shifted to domestic issues.
“The reason there isn’t much discussion is that there isn’t much to disagree about,” said Radhika Desai, a professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba. “Neither the Liberals or the Conservatives have anything to gain by creating a controversy around foreign policy… it is very hard to see light between the two of them.”
Reflective of Canada’s foreign policy discussion shutout is the lack of international media attention to the country’s national election.
Paul Robinson, a political science professor at the University of Ottawa, told Sputnik that the lack of foreign interest in the election is indicative of the fact that Canada is not seen as a major player on the global stage, a sentiment expressed by Blanchet during the national debates, and that the country isn’t seen as an independent actor.

TORONTO (Sputnik) – Canada will choose its next government on Monday, putting an end to an inflammatory campaign in which Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau was expected to coast to a majority government but finds himself in a tight race as voters head to the polls.“What’s the interest? Why should they cover it? Especially when so much else going on around the world,” said Desai.

Bringing Together a Divided Country

Whoever comes out on top on 20 September, faces a tall order in uniting a country after a 36-day campaign marked by protests, partisanship and, at times, personal attacks.
The sentiment is reflected in the polls, where most voters say that none of the parties deserve a majority and are holding out hope for a minority government.
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