The cliffhanger elections in Canada are intensifying. Some fear that an American-style political polarization will follow


“Every Canadian has met a Justin Trudeau in their life – privileged, empowered and always looking for number one. He was looking for number one when he sparked that costly and unnecessary election in the midst of a pandemic. not leadership, it’s self-interest. And it’s Justin Trudeau through and through, ”O’Toole said, as the child behind him bounced happily.

He continued for nearly 20 minutes, accusing the leader of the left-wing Liberal Party of corruption, cover-up and launching an “American-style” disinformation campaign against O’Toole himself and his party policies. .

“I would say he only talks about words and no action, but it’s worse. A person so blinded by his own ambition, that he can’t see the rot in his own party. A man who doesn’t He is neither a feminist nor an environmentalist, not a public servant, a man who is focused solely and squarely on himself, ”O’Toole said.

O’Toole’s attack was like thunderbolt disrupting an already ugly and unstable national election campaign on many fronts. The sharp and very personal attack inevitably sparked a counterattack from Trudeau hours later.

“I’m not disputing his character. I’m not saying he doesn’t love his children. I’m saying he’s wrong about how to ensure jobs and prosperity and a safe country for the people at home. But that’s what Canadians get to choose. I’m going to let him and his proxies and the anti-vaxxer movement and the gun lobby and the anti-choice mob keep attacking me, fine. I will stay focused on Canadians, ”Trudeau said at a press conference in Vancouver on Monday.

Canada votes on September 20

In just a matter of weeks, Canada’s early election has gone from being a tight-rope cake for Trudeau, giving his Conservative opponent the opportunity to launch personal attacks in a brutal and sustained manner seldom heard in political discourse. from the country.

The vote, set for September 20, includes six federal parties. While Trudeau and O’Toole are probably the only leaders capable of forming a government, given their national support, Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), is well placed in the polls and could once again hold the balance of power in any Canadian parliament.

The pandemic, climate change, housing affordability and gun control have all been major issues for voters.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and their children walk to the campaign bus on August 15, 2021 in Ottawa, Canada.

But Trudeau’s vulnerability is, in fact, the election itself, which he purposely triggered just as a deadly fourth wave of the pandemic took hold in Canada.

Trudeau called an early election in mid-August, just two years after starting his minority government, betting he could capitalize on his handling of the pandemic to win a majority in Parliament. But once favorable polls quickly turned the tide, with O’Toole and Trudeau now tied statistically, according to national tracking surveys in recent days.

Justin Trudeau bombarded with gravel by protesters during campaign shutdown

“On the second day of the election, the daily polls started coming out and we saw a daily slide of the Liberals and Justin Trudeau. It was daily, it was relentless and it was dropping every day. During that time, the Conservatives, with their new leader Erin O’Toole, were on the rise, ”said Philippe J. Fournier, founder of Project 338Canada, a statistical model of election projections that tracks polls, historical and demographic data.

Few Canadians see the need for this election, and Fournier adds that holding it in the summer during a global pandemic has angered many voters who cannot identify a compelling “ballot box” problem to justify the business.

Canadians are trying to make the most of the last days of summer, Fournier says, and many are annoyed by the political canvassing, the ads, the vitriolic, while trying to deal with the pandemic.

Problems of “hold” and Canadian conservatism

Even though the candidates have tried to engage meaningfully on issues, a wave of polarization among voters – one that seems to reflect the American experience – is emerging, particularly on cultural or self-esteem issues. saying “stuck” like abortion rights, gun control and climate change.

The pandemic in particular has sparked fury among a small but fierce minority who oppose certain Covid protocols, particularly the warrants for vaccines and masks. Earlier this month, a protester threw gravel at Trudeau during a campaign event in Ontario, after the Canadian leader was harassed by protesters angry at his pandemic policies.

The passionate and visceral nature of this campaign makes some activists and educators fear that Canada’s increasingly polarized politics are following the lead of the United States.

“We like to look at the United States and say ‘not us’, and I think we are now at a point where we have to say ‘yes, and so do we’,” said Notisha Massaquoi, assistant professor of health and at the ‘University of Toronto and a black community activist.

“We have seen it, we know it can happen, we know that a population can be inflamed and can become powerful and can become leaders,” Massaquoi said, explaining that she feared that a future Canadian government could. use wedge issues, like race, to mobilize its electoral base in detrimental ways.

Conservative Party of Canada Leader Erin O'Toole delivers a speech during a campaign stop on September 14, 2021 in Russell, Ontario, Canada.

Asked by CNN how his brand of conservatism is similar or different to that of American Republicans, O’Toole, Trudeau’s main rival, is careful not to answer the question directly but explains that it is a “big tent” party.

“I’m a new Conservative leader with a new style. I have served in the military, in the Canadian armed forces, I have worked in the private sector, I have worked my way up the political ladder. of the divisive politics that we saw under Mr. Trudeau, and more of a positive politics that the Conservative Party is bringing to Canada with our plan for Canada’s economic recovery, ”he said.

O’Toole has had some success in portraying himself as a more progressive Conservative leader. He says he’s pro-choice, has a climate plan and believes in gun control.

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Trudeau nevertheless accused him of siding with the “anti-vaxxer mobs” and of wanting to push the country back by endangering public policies that many Canadians consider sacred, such as gun control and medical care. universal health care.

At nearly every campaign stoppage, O’Toole has emphasized that he is pro-vaccine but doesn’t think vaccination mandates are effective or necessary. He also denied that he would do anything to bring health care into the private sector in Canada.

Meanwhile, as a former air navigator with 12 years of military service, O’Toole highlights another sort of difference between him and the well-heeled Prime Minister: “When Mr. Trudeau was partying, and we all had Seen the photos, I was on search and rescue missions in the military, ”says O’Toole.

An exhausted nation

The fourth wave of the pandemic intensified in the last month of the campaign, with active cases of Covid-19 more than doubling throughout the summer.

The Public Health Agency of Canada warns that “there is a risk that hospitalization rates exceed capacity.” While more than 78 percent of eligible Canadians are now fully vaccinated, new cases of Covid-19 continue to strain hospitals, especially in the western provinces.

It has been relentless and exhausting, Massaquoi says, adding that she has personally lost six parents to Covid-19, with many Canadians of color suffering a similar loss.

And yet the political debate in Canada has not yet reached the current stage of engaging on the policies of the coalitions of voters and the leaders they support. Instead, the campaign seems increasingly influenced by vocal advocates in political silos.

“We do not have the energy to mobilize racialized communities for example, we do not have the energy to mobilize indigenous communities during this election period because all our resources have been exhausted because of the Covid-19. We are in survival mode, explains Massaquoi.

In the absence of this thoughtful engagement, Fournier says voters’ intentions remain “evolving.”

“Right now, in my model, I have 61 ridings out of 338 that are being drawn,” he says. “It’s a huge amount,” he continues, adding that it is a nightmare for an election to have so many seats too close to be called a few days before the vote.

“We could have a lot of surprises,” he said.

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