OTTAWA — Gov. Gen Mary Simon has agreed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s request to dissolve Parliament, triggering an election campaign amid a fourth wave of COVID-19 and over opposition accusations it is reckless and unnecessary.
The Liberal party leader visited Rideau Hall Sunday morning to ask Simon to pull the plug on the minority Parliament and send Canadians to the polls on Sept. 20.
Trudeau said at a news conference after meeting Simon that his government did not expect COVID-19 but it focused on supporting Canadians and small businesses throughout the pandemic, delivering the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and wage subsidy for those hard-hit by the crisis.
Canadians need to choose how the country finishes the fight against COVID-19, he said.
“In this pivotal, consequential moment, who wouldn’t want a say? Who wouldn’t want their chance to decide where our country goes from here?” Trudeau asked.
“As much as we’ve done over the past many, many months, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. … You deserve a say, because this is your moment.”
The election call comes days after Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned the country was in the midst of a fourth wave of the pandemic with case numbers steadily rising in recent weeks.
However, Trudeau argued Canadians deserve a chance to rate the government’s handling of the crisis and to decide whether they agree with the Liberals’ ambitious and costly plan to rebuild the economy once the pandemic recedes.
The Liberals have also maintained that a minority Parliament had become toxic and dysfunctional and that they need a strong majority mandate in order to implement the recovery plan.
Opposition parties dismiss these claims, pointing out that the government has not lost any confidence votes, including on its spring budget, and arguing that holding an election during a pandemic is irresponsible and dangerous.
Even so, opposition leaders have been criss-crossing the country making campaign-style announcements in recent weeks.
On Sunday, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was set to speak at a downtown Ottawa hotel and then hold virtual events with people in Quebec and British Columbia.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will launch his own campaign in Montreal, where he will attend Pride celebrations.
The Bloc Québécois’ Yves-François Blanchet will also kick off the race in Montreal and participate in the Pride parade along with other Bloc candidates.
Green Leader Annamie Paul will launch her campaign in the riding of Toronto Centre, where she is hoping to win a seat in the House of Commons. She will canvass in the area and attend a campaign party in the evening.
Trudeau and his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau arrived at Rideau Hall this morning with their three children, Xavier, Ella-Grace and Hadrien, and walked through the back garden before he entered the residence.
The Liberal leader is launching a campaign just short of two years after the last vote, when his party was reduced to a minority government, and polls suggest it’s far from certain the party can snag a majority this time.
But Trudeau is gambling that general satisfaction with his handling of the pandemic — and the unprecedented billions doled out in emergency aid — will propel them past the 170 seats needed for a majority in the 338-seat House of Commons.
Liberal strategists privately acknowledge that voters could punish the party for perceived opportunism, particularly if the pandemic worsens or the campaign triggers a super-spreader event.
Criticism about the speed of the Liberal response to COVID-19, particularly its slow procurement of vaccines, could also be in the offing.
But they’re banking on voters rewarding the government for the fact that Canada now leads the world in vaccinations, which should prevent the fourth wave from being as deadly as the first three.
Tam has said she believes Canadians should be able to vote safely in a pandemic election, provided public health protocols are followed.
O’Toole, for his part, will likely seek to seize on his party’s reputation for fiscal restraint as anxieties grow over inflation and rising debt levels following a massive $354-billion deficit for 2020-21, which pushed Canada’s net debt past $1 trillion for the first time ever.
Singh, adopting a tax-the-rich populism and an upbeat tone, is set to argue he pried pandemic relief out of a reluctant minority government, including beefed-up wage subsidies, emergency benefits and sick-leave payments.
Meanwhile, Blanchet is targeting Conservative seats in and around Quebec City where he hopes his message of nationalism — though not outright sovereignty — will resonate.
At dissolution, the Liberals had 155 seats, the Conservatives 119, the Bloc Québécois 32, the NDP 24 and the Greens two. There were also five Independents and one vacancy.