Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will travel to Rideau Hall today and is expected to ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and launch a federal election.
The prime minister’s itinerary, released Saturday night, shows a meeting with Governor General Mary Simon set for 10 a.m. ET.
If Simon approves Trudeau’s request, delivered in the form of a document called an “instrument of advice,” she will then authorize the dissolution of Parliament and the issuance of election writs, formally beginning Canada’s 44th federal election.
Sources told CBC News on Thursday to expect a 36-day campaign — the minimum campaign length permitted by law — which would place election day on Monday, Sept. 20.
Simon has the authority to decline Trudeau’s request for an election, though this rare event would be out of step with parliamentary tradition.
Opposition parties have argued against an early election call — Canada’s next fixed date election is set for October 2023 — with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh going so far as to urge Simon to refuse Trudeau’s request. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Monday he was concerned about a fourth wave of the pandemic but ready to fight an election if one is called, saying an election was only in Trudeau’s “self-interest.”
When an election is called, the federal government enters a “caretaker” mode, designed to limit most major decisions.
The federal Liberals continue to hold a lead in public polling, capturing 35.6 per cent of public support, against 28.8 per cent for the Conservatives and 19.3 per cent for the NDP, according to CBC’s Poll Tracker. That level of support puts them just in range of the 170 seats needed to form a majority government.
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The Liberals currently hold 155 seats in the House of Commons, while the Conservatives have 119, the Bloc Québécois 32, the New Democrats 24 and the Green Party two. Five seats are held by independents.
The federal election would be the sixth major campaign in Canada since the start of the pandemic, following races in Yukon, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and New Brunswick.
Election comes as new cases rise
The campaign would also take place as new daily cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in much of the country, in what Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has described as “early signs” of a delta variant-driven fourth wave.
Tam has said that thanks to Canada’s high vaccination rate, a federal election could be conducted safely by putting in place health and safety protocols.
Stéphane Perrault, Canada’s chief electoral officer, called last summer for a longer campaign to give Elections Canada time to prepare health measures and logistics, though the agency says it can execute a 36-day race safely. The country’s electoral agency estimated late last year that as many as five million Canadians could vote by mail in this election.
An election call on Sunday would mark the official start of campaigning in Canada’s 338 electoral districts, though informally, many candidates have been at work in their ridings for weeks.
The way those candidates campaign will also be shaped by the context of the pandemic, with implications for how voters interact with parties and candidates.
At least two Liberal candidates are already refraining from or limiting door knocking ahead of the election call. Campaign literature featuring former MP Doug Eyolfson, running again in a Winnipeg riding, said he would not yet be knocking on doors.
Montreal MP Anthony Housefather said in a Facebook post on Friday that he would not be going door to door in apartment buildings or condos.
Opposition parties have argued that a federal campaign during the pandemic is unsafe, while Trudeau has skirted questions about a possible election.
“The problem is we have a prime minister that is about to plunge Canadians into an election during a pandemic, with the best public advice available to him, and at that same time we have his own candidates — including doctors — who are saying its not safe to do so,” Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said on Saturday.
“We’re not in a situation where an election is necessary, but the prime minister is going to have one anyway.”
In a statement, the Liberals said Saturday that when “the next election arrives,” candidates “will follow public health guidelines, and that includes getting fully vaccinated.”
“Of course, our candidates also work in the context of their own community to take every additional step to meet the highest possible safety protocols,” the statement said.
Ad war has already begun
In the days ahead of the expected election call, both leading parties launched new ads. The Liberal spot, featuring a voiceover by Trudeau, features the slogan “Forward for everyone.”
The Conservative ad, a parody of a scene in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, critiques Trudeau for fiscal mismanagement. It was tweeted along with the line, “The only reason for an election is because Trudeau wants a majority.” But the ad was criticized as unprofessional by several MPs within the party.
The political parties have been making campaign-style stops and announcements for weeks now, as they also prepare for the coming campaign by raising funds and nominating candidates.
The government has spent the past several weeks on an announcement spree, with MPs and ministers crisscrossing the country to hold events.