Federal election campaign for pandemic arouses little enthusiasm for any party

OTTAWA – A campaign that began with anger at Justin Trudeau’s decision to call an election amid the COVID-19 pandemic is ending amid anger at the Conservative prime ministers’ handling of the health crisis.

The first wave of discontent appears to have dashed Trudeau’s hopes of a liberal majority and even jeopardized his chances of bringing out another minority.

The second wave could still save him.

When Trudeau pulled the plug on his minority government on August 15, he attempted to phrase the ballot question like this: Who do you want to end the fight against COVID-19 and lead the country to a robust, greener and more inclusive recovery?

Canada, he argued, is at a turning point in history and Canadians deserve the chance to decide how they want to proceed and under whose leadership.

Instead, the campaign quickly became more of a referendum on Trudeau himself, with opposition leaders relentlessly grappling with his “selfish” choice to put his personal quest for the majority ahead of national interests. in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

The tenuous lead the Liberals enjoyed in pre-campaign polls – along with general Canadians’ satisfaction with the Trudeau government’s handling of the crisis and the direction of the country – has almost evaporated at once.

“I think a lot of us misinterpreted what was an optimistic country in terms of where we’re going, vaccines and everything, and we just confused what was a really cranky, anxious, tired electorate who didn’t had no real desire to hold an election, ”said pollster David Coletto, chief executive of Abacus Data.

The fact that the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, fell to the Taliban on the very day Trudeau called the election – leaving thousands of Canadians and Afghans who had aided Canada’s military mission stranded in the country – only heightened anger at his timing.

As Liberal support crumbled, Erin O’Toole’s Tories gained momentum.

Largely unknown before the campaign, O’Toole ditched the ‘really blue’ image and policies he devised to woo his party’s large contingent of social conservatives in last year’s leadership race, instead presenting himself to Canadians as a moderate centrist in an attempt to win over disillusioned Liberal voters.

The strategy seemed to be working, at least initially. Liberal attempts to drive a wedge on issues like abortion, private health care and mandatory vaccinations for federal workers did not hold up to O’Toole.

New Democrats’ Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile, was able to use his position as the most popular federal leader and the apparent collapse of the struggling Green Party to give the NDP some momentum as well.

By mid-campaign, however, the Liberals had rebounded slightly, the momentum of the Conservatives and the NDP seemed to be running out of steam, and the two main parties were practically tied, or within reach of a majority.

And that’s pretty much where things are still heading into Monday’s vote, suggesting that the 2021 election result will end up looking a lot like the one that emerged in 2019.

Beyond the timing of the election itself, Coletto says his poll suggests there were no real pivotal points during the campaign, no big issues or blunders that recorded lastingly. with those grumpy Canadians.

O’Toole got no noticeable bump from the virtual endorsement of Quebec Premier François Legault.

He took a hit after flipping around on his platform promise to repeal the Liberals’ ban on assault-style guns.

The Bloc Québécois’ apathetic campaign had the wind in its sails after Leader Yves-François Blanchet took umbrage with a question posed by the moderator of last week’s English debate which he said suggested Quebeckers are racist .

Trudeau received a boost for resisting the profanity-spitting protesters, mostly opposed to vaccinations and public health restrictions, as they became more aggressive and even pelted him and his entourage with gravel during the event. a campaign stop.

Usually, Coletto says these are the kinds of events that can change the trajectory of an election. But this time they looked more like brief echoes.

Coletto believes this is because people have remained largely disengaged from the campaign, making their decision only a short time before voting, whether by mail, at advance polls, or at local polling stations. Monday.

“It feels like people, once they at least got connected enough to feel like they could make a choice ΓǪ, they kind of landed where they were in 2019, for the most part,” did he declare.

The only party to show sustained momentum in the second half of the campaign appears to be Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, which has adopted the anti-vaccination and anti-mask fringe.

The PPC is unlikely to win seats, but could have enough support from the Tories to rob them of victory in close quarters – hence O’Toole’s end-of-campaign warning to center-right voters that a vote for a nameless little party is a vote for Trudeau.

Trudeau is also warning progressive voters against the NDP and Greens, saying the only way to stop a Conservative government is to vote Liberal.

Singh, meanwhile, urges progressives to vote with their hearts, saying electing more New Democrats is the best way to force any minority government to pay attention to the issues of NDP champions, like the taxation of the ultrarich or universal drug insurance.

It is far from certain that anything can move the needle in the final days of the campaign.

But Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s near apologies on Wednesday for the way he handled the unleashed fourth wave of COVID-19 in his province at least refocused the federal campaign in its final days on the issue. Trudeau’s favorite ballot.

And it puts O’Toole’s hesitation over passports and vaccine warrants, as well as his past praise for Kenney’s handling of the pandemic, back into the limelight.

Alberta and neighboring Saskatchewan have the lowest vaccination rates in the country and their health systems are now overwhelmed with the highest rates of COVID-19 cases. This week, Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe both belatedly imposed tougher public health restrictions, including proof of vaccination policies they had long resisted.

“What is happening in Saskatchewan and Alberta could signal voters in fact what the Prime Minister has said all along, which is that this is a high stakes election and that the choice you make in the end will have consequences, it could lead to life or death, ”Coletto says.

“And maybe that gets people to pay a little more attention and think more carefully about their choices, instead of just disciplining the Liberals for doing something they didn’t want them to do. . “

It could also give the Popular Party a boost at the end of the campaign, Coletto adds, leaving Bernier alone to carry the anti-restrictions torch.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 18, 2021.

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