(Adds quotes by Trudeau, background)
By David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer
OTTAWA, Aug 15 (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin
Trudeau on Sunday called an early election for Sept. 20, saying
he needed a new mandate to ensure voters approved of his Liberal
government’s plan to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trudeau, 49, is betting that high vaccination rates against
the virus and a post-pandemic economic rebound will help him
prolong and strengthen his grip on power. Newly-released data
shows 71% of the country’s eligible population is fully
The election comes at a “pivotal, consequential moment” for
Canada, Trudeau said.
“We will be taking decisions that will last not just for the
coming months but for the coming decades. Canadians deserve
their say. That’s exactly what we’re going to give them,” he
Trudeau spoke after visiting Governor General Mary Simon,
the representative of head of state Queen Elizabeth, to formally
request the dissolution of Parliament.
Polls suggest the Liberals will win their third consecutive
election but may not regain a majority in the 338-seat House of
Commons. Trudeau currently has only a minority of seats, leaving
him reliant on other parties to govern.
Nationally, Liberals would win 35% of the vote, compared
with 30% for the Conservatives and 19% for the left-leaning New
Democrats, a Leger Marketing poll showed on Aug. 12.
FACTBOX on main parties and leaders, click
The Liberals spent heavily on subsidies to businesses and
individuals to limit the damage from COVID-19, sending both the
national debt and budget deficits to record highs.
The Conservatives and New Democrats have in recent days
condemned the idea of an early election, saying there was no
need for it and describing the call as a power grab.
“This is a really important moment,” Trudeau said when asked
repeatedly why he was calling an election during a pandemic.
He said some Conservative legislators had described as
“tyrannical” the government’s push to make vaccinations
mandatory for federally regulated industries.
“The answer to tyranny is to have an election,” he said.
The right-of-center Conservatives, the Liberals’ biggest
rivals, say spending will increase if Trudeau wins again,
leaving generations of Canadians hobbled by debt.
With a parliamentary majority, Trudeau would have a free
hand to follow through on his stated policy priorities of
fighting climate change and supporting those who suffered most
during the pandemic.
“Our planet and our future are at stake. So I need you
alongside me in this fight,” he said on Sunday.
Nanos Research pollster Nik Nanos said the Liberals had no
choice but to go to the polls now, noting that the longer they
wait, the more risk they face of a fourth wave of the
“They see a window and they’re going to shoot for that
window before the bad news comes out, before there’s another
variant or before the bill shows up for the full cost of
fighting the pandemic,” he said in an interview.
The Bank of Canada last month painted an optimistic picture
of growth heading into the second half of the year.
But the bond market already is signaling that the pace of
Canada’s economic growth could slow as Delta variant cases rise
in the United States, its largest trading partner, and in some
other major export markets.
Trudeau, the son of longtime former Prime Minister Pierre
Trudeau, first won a majority in 2015. But in the 2019 election,
after decades-old black face pictures surfaced, he came up short
of a majority.
Another minority administration would leave him likely
relying once more on the New Democrats, who favor even heavier
spending on social programs. It would also raise questions about
Trudeau’s future as the leader of his party.
Trudeau repeatedly refused to say on Sunday if he would
resign as leader if he does not secure a majority in the vote.
Without a strong opponent to rail against in this election,
as the main opposition Conservatives struggle, the Liberals fear
the vote may fragment and hand them yet another minority
Some Liberals question the need for an early election,
saying that although Trudeau had complained about obstructionism
from opposition parties, he managed to pass most of the
legislation the Liberals proposed.
“It’s a risky situation to go the polls when you don’t have
to,” said Peter Donolo, a political strategist at Hill+Knowlton
Strategies and communications director for former Liberal Prime
Minister Jean Chretien.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren; Editing by
Peter Cooney and Daniel Wallis)