Members of Parliament from all parties agreed that an election should not be called until after the pandemic is over – but that still leaves open the possibility of voters heading to the polls in the fall.
The House voted on a Bloc Québécois motion Tuesday urging the government not to hold an election so long as Canadians are faced with the pandemic. The motion said more than 1.3 million Canadians have been infected with COVID-19 and nearly 25,000 people have died as a result, and so it would be “irresponsible” to hold an election. It was put forward by Bloc MP Alain Therrien. Three hundred and twenty-seven MPs voted in favour, while Independent MP Derek Sloan voted against.
Although MPs agreed an election would not be held during the pandemic, they did not define exactly when it will be over. Public-health officials have suggested a return to normal could happen in September, and that’s when many political observers speculate the governing Liberals will call an election.
When asked whether he would commit to waiting until after the World Health Organization declared the pandemic over, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “nobody wants an election before the end of this pandemic.”
Similarly, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement that his party has said no election should be triggered so long as the pandemic continues. “It would be irresponsible and unsafe for Canadians,” he said.
Pollsters and political strategists agree that it does not make sense to call an election any earlier than September – when most say the governing Liberals would benefit from an election.
Nik Nanos, chief data scientist at Nanos Research, said at the moment, the Liberals are in “a bit of a sweet spot,” because Canadians are getting vaccinated, consumer confidence is high and people are feeling optimistic.
“I think that’s probably why the opposition parties might be thinking that the government could call an election,” he said.
However, Mr. Nanos said some of that confidence is likely misguided, as stimulus continues to be pushed out, and it’s still not clear how many businesses will survive.
Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, said data from her organization showed in March that most Canadians viewed it as inappropriate to hold an election until September.
Ms. Kurl said it will be interesting to see the extent to which people who have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will embrace an election, or whether the public will want to wait until they have had their second dose before heading to the polls.
“When we talked to Canadians about it, they were certainly not in any mood to entertain an election at least until September, if not further away.”
Peter Donolo, vice-chairman of Hill + Knowlton Strategies, and former long-time director of communications to prime minister Jean Chrétien, said he believes it would be “very risky” for the Liberals to call an election, period.
“I don’t know why they would chance it, even a fall election, because they have a de facto majority in the House of Commons, given the support they always get from the NDP and often from the Bloc … what can’t they do in the House now, in terms of legislation? What do they need a mandate for?”
Mr. Donolo said the Liberals have a “workable Parliament” and he doesn’t believe there’s a compelling reason to turn to the public to say they can’t work under the current setup.
Tim Powers, chairman of Summa Strategies and a Conservative strategist, said unless there is a fourth pandemic wave, he can’t imagine the Liberals would not want a fall election.
Mr. Powers said the Liberals will want to avoid getting pulled into the crossfire of a provincial election and they do not want Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole to become known. He also said Mr. Trudeau will market his government as the one that got Canada “back.”
And Mr. Powers does not think Canadians will mind being called to the polls, if it means the country has emerged from the pandemic.
”I think if Canadians have their lives back, you could call elections in every province and a national one, and they wouldn’t care because they’re just happy to be free.”
He said Mr. O’Toole would likely benefit from a spring 2022 election, which would allow more time for Canadians to get to know him, and time for people’s focus to shift away from the pandemic.
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