Justin Trudeau acknowledged, Friday, that there may be a federal election this year, though the Prime Minister insists he doesn’t want one. The question is whether an election, if it comes, will hinge on the ambitious budget that we are expecting from the Liberals this spring, or on the government’s ability to deliver COVID-19 vaccines.
Several premiers this week said they are now able to deliver more vaccine doses to their citizens than Ottawa is able to provide.
“We’re quickly running out,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters Friday. Unless Ottawa ramps up the number of doses it delivers each week, “all the progress we’ve made getting our daily vaccine numbers up will be lost, as clinics stand by waiting for vaccines from the feds.”
In response, Mr. Trudeau said his government is ramping up acquisition, and many more doses will be available next month. “By September, we’ll have enough vaccines for every Canadian who wants one,” he told reporters.
But September will be too late. Ten months after the first lockdown, patience is wearing out. People are ignoring the pleas of politicians and health officials, in part because so many of them broke the rules themselves by leaving the country during the holidays.
A Leger poll showed that nearly half of Canadians visited people outside their household over Christmas. Predictably, cases and deaths are increasing as a result, a situation that Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, described as “scary.”
The only way we are going to beat the steady rise in deaths associated with this second pandemic wave is to quickly vaccinate the most vulnerable populations. The provinces have ramped up capability. Now all eyes turn to Ottawa.
Did the Liberals pay enough money to secure sufficient supplies of vaccines from multiple suppliers? Are they approving new vaccines quickly enough? Will everyone who works or lives in long-term care be protected within a few weeks, or will some of them have to wait months?
These are life-and-death questions. But they are political questions, too. Last year, voters decided their governments were doing the best job they could to protect lives and the economy. In every provincial election, incumbent governments were returned.
Most provincial governments have no elections scheduled in 2021. Doug Ford in Ontario, Jason Kenney in Alberta and Francois Legault in Quebec have another year or more before they must face the people.
But inside the Ottawa bubble, may believe there will be a spring election fought on the issue of the federal budget, which is expected to contain audacious plans to launch Canada into the next generation of the knowledge economy.
The Conservatives will reject the budget because of the deficits that will come with it. The NDP may reject it because the Liberals appear to have no plans to move on a wealth tax or pharmacare.
If the polls remain favourable for the Liberals, Mr. Trudeau might call one himself, saying he needs a new mandate to govern a postpandemic Canada. The Liberals are, after all, ahead in the polls, though not yet comfortably into majority-government territory.
All of this assumes that the Grits are in charge of events. They may not be if Canada in April is emerging from an awful winter in which lockdowns dragged on and case counts climbed higher because vaccines weren’t getting to enough people.
Right now, Canada trails the United States and the United Kingdom – and everyone is far behind Israel – in vaccinations on a per capita basis. It’s reasonable to assume that if those gaps narrow in February and March, vaccination rates will be off the table as a ballot question in a spring election.
If the lockdowns ease and end, the economy recovers, things gradually return to normal at home and at work, then there will be other issues on the front burner: infrastructure, climate change, jobs, taxes and debt, and whether Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is up to the job.
But if it becomes clear Canada is lagging, with people dying and the economy suffering as a result, then voters won’t care about what’s in the budget or about any other issues. If the misery lasts into the spring, the Liberals will pay a price.
Simple as that.
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