'Too close to call': Canadians head to polls in tight election

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces tough battle against Conservative leader Erin O'Toole

Canadians queue to vote in Toronto, Ontario, in the federal election. Willy Lowry / The National
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Canada’s 36-day sprint of an election campaign reached the finish line on Monday, as across the country, Canadians head to the polls to pick the next government.

In central Toronto, hundreds of people waited to cast their ballots - carefully spaced to observe social distancing - in a queue that stretched a whole city block.

Rasheem Carty hoped to beat the opening rush and arrived early to the polling station, but still had to queue.

For Mr Carty, the last five weeks have felt like a blur.

“This all just feels very much like a scramble. The election was last minute. There wasn’t really time for the parties to say their platforms,” said Mr Carty. “But I think it's a good opportunity for people to get out and vote.”

Steve MacNeil arrived more than half an hour early, excited to cast his ballot. He said he was frustrated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to hold an election during the pandemic.

“I think the election and the timing of the election call was not great,” Mr MacNeil told The National.

Mr Trudeau called the election back in August, hoping to capitalise on voters' approval of his navigation of the pandemic.

So far, Canada has fared better than many western countries in limiting the number of deaths from Covid-19 and it also has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.

Voters queue in Toronto, Ontario, waiting to cast their ballots in the federal election. Willy Lowry / The National

The prime minister currently has a minority government, with his party holding 155 of the 338 seats in Parliament. He is asking Canadians to give his party a majority, which would allow him to push legislation through more easily, but the polls suggest that is unlikely to happen.

Mr Trudeau’s polling numbers dipped following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Canada’s lacklustre efforts to bring Afghan interpreters who worked with the Canadian forces to safety. The numbers have only recently started to inch up.

Current figures show Mr Trudeau locked in a tight race with Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.

“It's too close to call,” said Stephanie Chouinard, an associate professor at the Royal Military College and Queen’s University. “A lot will depend on voter turnout.”

Prof Chouinard said high voter turnout would probably benefit the Liberal Party while low turnout may indicate a strong performance for the Conservatives, whose base is consistent in showing up to the polls.

About 5.8 million Canadians voted in advance polls - a record - however only a million sent in absentee ballots, considerably less than Elections Canada was expecting.

If the race is as tight as pundits expect, it is unlikely Canadians will have the full election results before Tuesday.

Updated: September 20, 2021, 3:32 PM