Canada’s tight election enters final stretch

Campaigning has been marred by anti-vaccine protests

From left, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Conservative leader Erin O'Toole take part in the federal election English-language leaders' debate. Reuters
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The leaders of Canada’s five political parties are campaigning across the country today as they rally voters in one of the tightest election campaigns in decades.

The latest polls from Nanos Research conducted for CTV News and The Globe and Mail show Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party locked in a dead heat with Erin O’Toole and the Conservative Party.

The Liberals are polling 31.9 per cent to the Conservative’s 30.3 per cent and the difference between the two parties is within the poll’s margin of error.

“Neither of the two largest parties is polling above 33 per cent,” said Tim Abray, a policy and communications strategist. “That's unprecedented.”

Mr Trudeau called an early election in August, hoping to capitalise on Canada’s high vaccination rate to win a majority government, something voters denied him in 2019.

Despite entering the campaign with momentum, Mr Trudeau’s efforts stalled out of the gate, with many questioning the timing of the election and whether it was wise given the pandemic.

From the very beginning, it has been neck and neck between the country’s two main parties, and Mr Abray cannot recall an election this tight so close to election day.

Anti-vaxxers hijack campaign

The five-week campaign has been marred by tense scenes between anti-vaccine protesters and candidates - particularly Mr Trudeau, who has been vocal in his displeasure with those refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

This month, protesters pelted the prime minister and his entourage with gravel, leading to one protester being charged with assault with a weapon.

The threat of further violence has forced Mr Trudeau to delay and cancel some campaign stops.

The rise in anti-vaccine protests coincides with the rise of the People’s Party of Canada (PPC), a far-right anti-immigration populist party led by former Conservative Cabinet minister, Maxime Bernier.

The party has won modest support among more conservative Canadians. The Nanos poll shows that the party is in fourth place with 6.7 per cent support, ahead of the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party.

PPC supporters have been fixtures at protests against Mr Trudeau's leadership.

“It is a growing trend in our politics, this kind of antagonism that's starting to show up in physical ways across the campaign trail. It's really serious, it's anti-democratic,” Mr Abray said.

“We need to have a very serious conversation about it as a people if we're going to continue attempting to build a more inclusive and democratic system.”

A final push

The struggle for power is likely to come down to the suburbs surrounding Toronto, known as the “905" because of its area code. The region, which historically oscillates between the Liberals and Conservatives, has about 75 seats up for grabs.

Canada's opposition Conservative Party leader Erin O'Toole and his wife, Rebecca, continue the election campaign tour in London, Ontario. Reuters

The Liberals dominated the 905 in 2019 and will need a repeat if they want to cling to power.

Mr O’Toole, who has dragged his party to the centre, hopes more progressive stances on climate change and social issues will help voters in the 905 and across the country turn to him.

Canadians head to the polls on Monday, September 20.

Updated: September 17, 2021, 3:17 PM