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Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau greets a crowd of supporters with his family in tow after triggering a federal election, in Ottawa on Aug. 15.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Canada doesn’t want an election. Canada doesn’t need an election. And exhausted after a year and a half of wrestling a pandemic, and about to be dragged into the ring for yet another round, Canada can’t afford the distraction of an election.

But however unwanted, unwarranted or unneeded, a federal election there will be.

Party challenges and strategies for the 2021 federal election

What happened on Sunday, when Justin Trudeau visited the Governor-General to kill off the current Parliament, was hardly unexpected – at least, not on Parliament Hill. Signs of a Liberal minority government itching to bid for a majority have been there since last summer.

Among the most obvious signs? How far the opposition parties have gone to not oppose.

The Liberals long insisted, with little conviction and less evidence, that the government’s health was in dire condition, its law-passing arteries blocked by minority status, such that the invasive surgery of an election was the only option. But the opposition hadn’t been holding up the Liberal agenda. Rather than trying to bring the government down, they’d been falling over themselves with promises to prop it up.

In a minority Parliament, the opposition side of the aisle is normally filled with aspiring executioners, itching to off a government at the first opportunity, and budding morticians, counting the days until they’re presented with a corpse. This year, their seats have been filled by paramedics.

Topple the Liberals? As if. The NDP had the votes to prevent the government from falling, and were committed to using them. The Bloc Québécois and Conservatives repeatedly called on it to not extinguish itself, and lacked the votes to bring it down.

Which is why the end of the Liberal government, at the Liberals’ own hands, will come as a surprise to a lot of Canadians in the land beyond the Hill. They called an election? Now?

The country is otherwise occupied, and so is Ottawa. Or at least it should be. This is not, in case anybody needs reminding, a postpandemic victory lap election. Canada is exiting a brief intermission between the third COVID period and the overtime fourth wave. The federal government should concentrate on making the best preparations so that, unlike last fall, Canada suffers as little as possible loss of jobs, money and life. Our elected officials should be seized of the need to beat the pandemic. Instead, they’re going to spend precious weeks beating up on each other. This is not a distraction Canada needs. And it may yet come back to bite the Liberals.

Governing is about solving problems – those of the nation, and of each and every voter. But the self-terminated former government is asking Canadians to set aside their own not insignificant challenges, to park their own needs and to turn their minds to the urgent issue of satisfying the Liberal Party’s desire to move from the scrutiny of minority to the comforts of majority.

As several provinces have shown, it is possible to hold a pandemic election. But you don’t need a thesaurus to know that “possible” is not a synonym of “necessary.”

Even the pandemic issue on which the Liberals suddenly found religion on Friday, abruptly announcing a vaccine mandate for federal employees, proof-of-vaccination for airline passengers, and encouraging federally regulated private employers to follow Ottawa’s lead, has campaign trail fingerprints all over it.

The new policy is a good and necessary thing – but why did it take the Liberals so long to act? They pivoted from disinterest to enthusiasm, overnight. As a result, the Liberals did not put forward a detailed plan to put all of this into effect. Instead, they announced their intention to develop plans, which they hope to have in place by – wait for it – the end of October. In pandemic time, that’s light-years away.

Quebec’s vaccine passport goes into effect Sept. 1. Manitoba has already issued its proof-of-vaccination cards. Why wasn’t Ottawa preparing for this months ago?

Friday’s announcement had the quality of pandemic-fighting by polls – as domestic vaccine mandates and passports, good public-health strategies the Liberals ignored for months while in government, appeared to have been suddenly identified as potential campaign wedge issues, and instantly transformed into urgent pre-election action items.

Canada didn’t ask for an election. But like the pandemic, here it is.

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