All eyes on turnout as Canada's tight election campaign enters final
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[September 17, 2021]
By Julie Gordon
OTTAWA (Reuters) - As Canada's election
race enters its final weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is
redoubling efforts to motivate supporters, knowing his bid for
re-election on Monday could be doomed by low turnout.
Recent opinion polls show Trudeau's Liberals neck and neck with the
opposition Conservatives led by Erin O'Toole, suggesting that getting
out the vote will be crucial.
Low turnout tends to favor the Conservatives, who are traditionally
better at ensuring their supporters cast ballots.
"It's time to step up. Join our movement, make some calls, go knock on
doors, talk to your neighbors, talk to your family," Trudeau said this
week at an Ontario rally, a call he has often repeated during the last
week of the campaign.
Trudeau, 49, called an early election on Aug. 15, seeking a
parliamentary majority after two years of minority government in which
he had to work with other parties to govern. But he is now scrambling to
save his job.
Two senior Liberals with direct roles in the campaign both told Reuters
they were worried that Canadians might be more focused on returning to
their routines - rather than on politics - as increasing numbers of
people are fully vaccinated.
While Canadians voted in early polls in record numbers, demand for
mail-in ballots has been far lower than expected.
The pandemic is intensifying in parts of the country and voters will
likely face longer lineups than usual on Election Day, due to fewer
polling stations and distancing requirements.
O'Toole, 48, a former Cabinet minister who has led his party for just
over a year, has proved competitive with a disciplined campaign
appealing to centrist voters with progressive pledges, while avoiding
alienating his center-right base.
"It's not about convincing people they should think about voting for you
anymore. It's about getting the people who are committed to voting for
you out to vote," said Darrell Bricker, chief executive of Ipsos Public
"Turnout is going to be everything."
The latest Ipsos poll has the Liberals and Conservatives tied at 32%,
with the left-leaning New Democrats in third at 21%. Trudeau has a
slight lead on O'Toole as preferred prime minister, at 32% to 29%.
But opinion polls do not always reflect what happens on voting day, as
turnout can hugely affect seat counts. In the past, higher turnout has
favored the Liberals and New Democrats, Bricker said.
Turnout was 67% in the 2019 election when Trudeau lost his majority,
down from 68.3% when he swept to power in 2015.
"If turnout is unusual, we could have many more surprises on Monday
night," Philippe Fournier, a polling analyst for the 338Canada.com
website, told the Reuters Global Markets Forum on Thursday.
[to top of second column]
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left to right, NDP Leader Jagmeet
Singh, and Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole take part in the federal
election English-language Leaders debate in Gatineau, Canada,
September 9, 2021. Adrian Wyld/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
CLOSER THAN EXPECTED
Trudeau held a comfortable lead in the polls going into the
campaign, but that has vanished because of what many voters see as
an unnecessary election.
He also faces a challenge from New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet
Singh, who outstrips Trudeau and O'Toole in personal popularity and
appeals to the same voters the center-left Liberals need.
If enough voters opt for Singh, it could split the progressive camp
and allow O'Toole to take power. Trudeau told a rally on Sunday that
the Liberals were "the only progressive party that can stop the
Conservatives from taking us backwards."
Over the past two weeks, Trudeau has also accused O'Toole of cozying
up to the gun lobby and allowing Conservative lawmakers to try to
reopen the abortion debate.
O'Toole peppers his daily campaign appearances with jabs at
Trudeau's decision to call an early election during a pandemic,
painting the Liberal leader as selfish and power hungry.
With polls showing an uptick in support for the small, far-right
People's Party of Canada, whose supporters have dogged Trudeau's
campaign with protests over vaccine mandates, O'Toole has to
convince its supporters he is their only hope of getting Trudeau out
of office, while not alienating core Conservatives.
"Make no mistake. A vote for anyone other than Canada's
Conservatives, is a vote for more of the same from Mr. Trudeau,"
O'Toole said on Tuesday.
"It's a closer race than what people expected ... and now there's a
real possibility the Conservatives could win. So that should
stimulate the Conservatives' voters, but also Liberals," said Daniel
Beland, director of the Institute for the Study of Canada at
Montreal's McGill University.
"We might have done all of this to end up with the same result as
(Reporting by Julie Gordon; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren
in Ottawa, Steve Scherer in Montreal and Lisa Mattackal in Bengaluru;
Editing by Peter Cooney)
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