Canada dispatches: PM asks Governor General to dissolve Parliament, precipitating federal election
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Canada dispatches: PM asks Governor General to dissolve Parliament, precipitating federal election

[Ian Profiri is JURIST’s Staff Correspondent for Canada. He files this dispatch from Calgary.]

It’s official. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau traveled from his residence at 24 Sussex Drive, his family in tow, to Rideau Hall Sunday to officially ask Governor General Mary Simon to dissolve the 43rd Parliament and trigger a snap election.

Voting day is scheduled for September 20. Candidates have the next five weeks to appeal to Canadian voters, convincing them that they deserve to lead the country moving forward.

Political opposition leaders have been quick to point out the timing of the election. Canada is, like almost every country across the world, still dealing with the pandemic; Canada is also in the midst of a vaccine rollout that has begun to slow and questions of vaccine passports and requirements have begun to surface. The pandemic response has, however, given Trudeau a so-called “Covid bump”, leading to a surge of support in the polls and indicating that the Liberal party would claim a slim majority if the election were held today.

Criticism of the election call was swift. Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said Canadians shouldn’t be risking well-earned social gains for “political games, or political power.” New Democrat Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh similarly stated that “Justin Trudeau should be focusing on [the pandemic], on getting people the help they need.” Green Party leader Annamie Paul and Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet echoed the other’s concerns. Paul stated that “common sense and collaboration have lost out in the quest for power”, while Blanchet said an election now was “irresponsible” and that the “legislature should have lasted four years.”

Minority governments, such as Trudeau’s now-dissolved Liberal government, are not usually expected to last the typical four years between elections, but the 20 months that this government has lasted is particularly short. The quickness of the election call is especially intriguing considering the amount of collaboration between the parties throughout the pandemic response. It wasn’t until Liberal members of Parliament began ramping up “campaign tactics” and other aggressive commentary during question period, the live-broadcasted parliamentary debates, earlier this year that an election was even considered a possibility.

Trudeau defended the decision at a press conference held outside Rideau Hall. Reading from a prepared speech to reporters, Trudeau stated that “decisions your government makes right now will define the future your kids and grandkids will grow up in”, adding “Canadians need to choose how we finish the fight against Covid-19 and build back better.”

Although at this time it is unsure how the campaigns will function, government and party-specific health protocols may give hints as to what Canadians are to expect from their potential representatives. Live streams of campaign events have already been planned for at least two of the mainstream parties, while door-knocking and local campaign drives will likely be limited or have specific protocols in place to ensure voter safety.

Elections Canada, the organization that manages federal elections, already released plans for increased health and safety measures at polling stations. The organization also released information on advanced and mail-in voting Canada-wide. These practices were already common in Canada, but it is expected that the amount of people that choose to vote through these methods will likely increase. Canadians can also choose to vote at any Elections Canada office through a special ballot process before September 14. Currently, the estimated price tag for this election sits at $610 million.

There was a rush to pass as many important bills as possible before Parliament was suspended in June. Following the dissolution of government, any and all outstanding bills are shelved. It will be up to the new government to decide the legislative agenda moving forward. Considering the ongoing recovery of remains at former Residential schools, the recent IPCC report, as well as the continuation of the Covid-19 pandemic, any new government will have plenty of issues to tackle moving forward.

The Liberals had held 155 of the 338 federal seats available; the Conservatives, 119; the ideologically-based Québec-independence party, Bloc Québécois, held 32; progressive and leftist NDP, 24; and the environmentalist Green Party, 2. The remaining seats were held by independents. The newly formed Maverick Party, a western-independence party based out of the prairie provinces, and the populist-conservative People’s Party of Canada, will also be running candidates in the election. A party needs 170 seats to form a majority government in Canada.