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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau And Party Are On The Line In Tomorrow's Vote


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is fighting to hold on to his job. Voting is tomorrow. The snap parliamentary election has turned out to be unexpectedly rocky for the prime minister, who had hoped for a decisive victory based on his handling of the pandemic. Emma Jacobs has more from Montreal.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an early election in August, it seemed to show confidence that his Liberal Party could regain seats.


PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: This is a moment where Canadians can and should be able to weigh in.

JACOBS: It seemed like a good idea at the time. Lori Turnbull is director of the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University.

LORI TURNBULL: I think when he was looking at the public opinion polls, it was almost like, this is my chance to get a majority, and I might lose it if I wait anymore.

JACOBS: For the last two years, Trudeau's led a minority government that depends on support from other parties, mostly the New Democrats on the left. His government's handling of the pandemic has received relatively high marks from Canadians.

TURNBULL: Not just procuring the vaccines, but also rolling out these huge economic aid programs to assist individuals and families and businesses during the lockdowns. I think the government wanted credit for that, right? Like, they wanted to kind of be able to ride that into a majority government.

JACOBS: But in the early part of this brief campaign, it looked like Trudeau might have signed his own pink slip. His party's main rivals, the Conservative Party of Canada, surged in early polls. The Conservative leader, Erin O'Toole, has criticized Trudeau for, among other things, calling an early election.


ERIN O'TOOLE: He called an election in the fourth wave of a pandemic with fires in British Columbia and with unfinished business in Afghanistan.

JACOBS: Trudeau has argued voters should have the chance to weigh in as the government makes big decisions on how to move forward from the pandemic. But COVID has also made it harder for Trudeau to mingle with his political supporters, the style that helped him win a landslide victory in 2015, says Alex Marland, who teaches political science at Memorial University. Then, Trudeau was the fresh-faced son of a former prime minister with a polarizing conservative rival.

ALEX MARLAND: Trudeau goes out, and he's mingling with crowds and he - you know, he's taking selfies all the time. And he was really treated like a bit of a rock star.

JACOBS: Six years later, Trudeau has his own political baggage. The Conservative leader has staked out much more centrist positions than Trudeau's previous opponents, on everything from climate policy to social safety net programs. And Trudeau has been beset by anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protesters, who have loudly and even violently disrupted his campaign stops. Many appear to be supporters of what had been a fringe far-right party, the People's Party of Canada. Again, Lori Turnbull.

TURNBULL: The protests that we've seen during the campaign - which, I mean, don't represent the majority of voters, obviously - but people showing up to Liberal events, throwing gravel at the prime minister. Like, that's not something that we see in Canada, and so many people are a bit shocked.

JACOBS: Those echoes of recent events in American politics have worried some Canadians the country is heading towards more of the kind of polarization seen south of their border. Trudeau has argued the anti-vax protests make the case for his continued leadership.


TRUDEAU: What all this is showing is just how very important this moment is, of choice for this country on how we finish with this pandemic and how we build better for the coming years.

JACOBS: In the final days of the campaign, the tightness of the overall polls has all parties scrambling to get their voters to turn out. More than 6 million Canadians have already cast ballots by mail or in early voting. One prominent American weighed in with his endorsement last Thursday. Former President Barack Obama tweeted of Trudeau that, quote, "Justin has been an effective leader and strong voice for democratic values."

For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Montreal.


Emma Jacobs
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