The varied effects of the pandemic across Canada will lead political parties to adjust their tactics as they vie for votes in a federal election expected soon, public health and political leaders say.
“In the end, of course, you always have to take into account what’s happening locally,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, said Tuesday when asked about the prospect of a federal election.
“Manitoba might be a bit different from Ontario, and even within Ontario, there is different epidemiology,” Dr. Tam said at a news conference.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is widely expected to call an election for this summer or the early fall, and the parties are ramping up to compete for votes across the country. The NDP’s national director, for example, said the party has lined up staff, buses and a plane.
But Anne McGrath said she also expects regional differences to affect tactics during the campaign.
“Because the pandemic is still on, there will be parts of the country where it may not be possible to do in-person events, door-to-door canvassing, the kinds of things that, in many ways, give a campaign its life and its oomph and its spirit,” Ms. McGrath said in an interview.
But she said other parts of Canada may be more open because of the rate of vaccine rollouts so it may be possible to do events, but with physical distancing and restrictions on numbers of participants.
Ms. McGrath said everything hinges on the timing of an election call. “If it happens this week, I would think there would be more restrictions. If it happens in the fall, there might be fewer.”
She said the pandemic has taught the NDP a lot about digital organizing and virtual events so there will be more Zoom events and less “flying all over the country” as the party deploys Leader Jagmeet Singh, whom the NDP sees as a major asset in appealing for votes.
Ms. McGrath said the NDP has nominated candidates in about 100 ridings, but, overall, has candidates lined up in half of Canada’s 338 ridings. Liberal Party spokesperson Braeden Caley said in a statement that the party has nominated 177 candidates. The Conservatives have nominated 217 candidates, with an additional 50 nominations under way, said Cory Hann, communications director for the Conservative Party of Canada.
Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole said Tuesday that any leader’s tour would respect all provincial and municipal rules on public-health restrictions.
The Tory Leader told a news conference he is prepared to use a mix of outreach, including a party studio in Ottawa as well as some form of traditional campaign tour that would take him across the country.
Meanwhile, Mr. Caley said in a statement that the Liberal’s campaign director Azam Ishmael and party president Suzanne Cowan have been running regular briefing calls with local teams to ensure they have the latest information on such matters as new digital organizing tools and COVID-19 protocols.
Mr. Caley said the Liberals have been working on virtual campaign infrastructure so the party is ready whenever an election is called.
Elections Canada said Tuesday that the Chief Electoral Officer has previously noted that the agency is in a relatively good position to administer an election with current legislation despite the pandemic.
In an overview last month, Elections Canada said it has approved a series of administrative changes that include physical distancing and other public-health guidelines at polling places, as well as procuring masks and single-use pencils to be provided to electors.
The agency had recommended legislative changes to make voting more accessible through Bill C-19: An Act to amend the Elections Act, but the bill did not make it through Parliament before it was adjourned for the summer.
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