The 44th Canadian federal election is now in full swing.
On Aug. 15, Governor General Mary Simon accepted Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s motion to dissolve parliament, thus triggering a snap election. Canadians will cast their votes Sept. 20, leaving only 36 days for federal leaders to pitch their vision for the post-pandemic recovery. This is the shortest election period permitted under Canadian federal law.
Royce Koop, associate professor of political studies at the U of M, suspects that Trudeau’s motives for calling a snap election were less than altruistic.
“It’s a completely opportunistic election call, there’s no reason for it to happen,” Koop said.
“The government has a mandate. It’s about two years old, they’ve looked at the polls and they’ve made a political calculation that now is the right time to go.”
Trudeau’s election call has been criticized by the opposition as an unnecessary risk given the state of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the fact that it’s happening as a fourth wave of the pandemic engulfs us is regrettable,” Koop said.
“Under our system of governance […] the prime minister can pull the plug on the government, the governor general goes along with it […] but there should be a political cost to doing so.”
The Liberal party is currently seeing some of that cost. According to nightly election data from Nanos Research, support for the official opposition — the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) — has jumped almost four points between Aug. 13 and Aug. 21.
As of Aug. 22, the two parties sit uncomfortably close at 31.43 points for the CPC and 32.5 for the Liberals, a far cry from the 13-point lead the Liberals held less than a month ago in that same poll.
“As we’ve had more discussion of the motives behind calling this election, [Trudeau’s] popularity has actually gone down. People don’t want an election,” Koop said.
“I don’t think [the Liberals] predicted that people would disapprove of the election call. We are already seeing evidence that this whole discourse about calling an early election opportunistically has already dented his popularity.”
If present trends continue, a Conservative minority is not outside the realm of possibility.
“I think people have massively underestimated the Conservative leader, they think he’s a dud, he hasn’t polled well […] but that’s a big mistake,” Koop said.
“The Tories in Canada have a block of voters and it’s just rock solid. There are people that are going to vote Tory no matter what.”
The poll data seems to support this claim. A poll conducted by opinion research firm Ipsos between Aug. 13 and Aug. 16 has CPC leader Erin O’Toole polling six per cent behind his own party’s popularity.
Koop insists O’Toole is not out of the race yet.
“I wouldn’t dismiss him. It hasn’t looked well for him, but he’s also not a pushover. He’s been a politician for a long time, he’s had some interesting personal circumstances that I think prepare him for the job,” Koop said.
“It could be a hell of a race.”