The Irish Times view on elections in Canada: Justin Trudeau’s gamble

Even if Conservatives beat Liberals in popular vote their path to power is far from clear

In August, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau obtained a dissolution of parliament two years before the end of its natural term. The resulting general election will take place today.

Trudeau's Liberal Party lost its previous overall majority in 2019 and has since depended on support from parties outside the government, principally the left-wing National Democrats.

An opinion poll released just before the dissolution put the Liberals five points ahead of their Conservative rivals. But that lead soon evaporated and several subsequent polls have shown the Conservatives pulling ahead. In the last days before the election the lead has seemed to switch almost every day between the two big parties.

Trudeau has campaigned on his management of the Covid crisis, generally seen as successful. In response to growing concern over the cost of housing he has also promised a temporary ban on foreign investment in residential property. The Conservatives’ Erin O’Toole has had a good campaign.


His advocacy of a more moderate brand of conservatism seems to have gone down well, even if it may puzzle some in the CPC’s traditionally hard-line support base. O’Toole’s repositioning has opened up space on his right for the populist People’s Party, campaigning on an anti-vax, climate-change-sceptic, pro-gun, pro-oil-industry platform.

Populist activists have also broken with the normally civil conduct of Canadian politics, though their rowdy disruption of Liberal rallies may have been counter-productive.

Even if the Conservatives beat the Liberals today in the popular vote their path to power is far from clear. Conservative support is concentrated in western Canada, but most of the seats are in the east, particularly in Ontario and Quebec, where Liberals and the Bloc Québécois are strong.

Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system can also deliver a disproportional result. The Conservatives could break through, with a greater surge than the polls have suggested, but an equally possible scenario is for Trudeau’s Liberals to win more seats than their rivals yet end up back where they started, dependent on the left to govern.