Polling suggests Canadian PM’s Liberals are in the position to capture close to the 170 seats needed for majority government

Justin Trudeau in Montreal on 5 August.
Justin Trudeau in Montreal on 5 August. Photograph: Canadian Press/REX/Shutterstock

Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has called a snap election, gambling that voters will reward his administration’s handing of the coronavirus pandemic with a parliamentary majority as he pulls the plug on a two-year minority government.

On Sunday morning, Trudeau met with Governor General Mary Simon to request she dissolve parliament — a request she approved.

“The decisions your government makes right now will define the future your kids and grandkids will grow up in,” Trudeau told reporters after meeting with Simon. “So in this pivotal, consequential moment, who wouldn’t want a say?”

For the last two years, Trudeau has relied on opposition parties – largely the leftwing New Democratic party (NDP) – to pass legislation, a budget and emergency coronavirus spending. In recent months, however, he has accused opposition parties of delaying the passage of legislation.

With world-leading vaccination rates and an improved outlook for the country’s economy, Trudeau sees an opportunity to win back the majority that voters denied him in 2019.

In sending Canadians to the polls, Trudeau is hoping to capitalize on the success of provincial leaders in recent elections. In all cases, voters have rewarded incumbent provincial governments with legislative majorities.

But there is no guarantee for the prime minister, whose Liberals have led the country since 2015.

Recent polling puts Trudeau on the cusp of capturing the 170 seats needed for a majority government. Data from the Angus Reid Institute found the Liberals have five-point advantage over the opposition Conservatives, with the pandemic being top of mind for voters.

The prime minister’s rivals have shown little interest in heading to the polls.

In late July, the New Democratic leader, Jagmeet Singh, sent a letter to the newly installed governor general, Mary Simon, calling on her to reject Trudeau’s request to dissolve parliament.

Singh pointed out that the country’s fixed-election law states that every general election must be held on the third Monday of October four calendar years after the last one.

While the law allows for an early election if the government has lost the confidence of the House of Commons, Singh noted that Trudeau’s Liberals have won every confidence vote they faced.

“It’s not the right time to have an election,” he said earlier this week. “People might say ‘that that’s what governments do’ … I don’t think that’s what governments do when you’re in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.

Constitutional experts have widely rejected the idea that the governor general would refuse the prime minister’s request.

Singh is the most well-liked federal leader, and polling suggests the NDP will gain seats, but the Conservative opposition leader, Erin O’Toole, faces the prospect of his party losing a number of races. With coronavirus restrictions hampering in-person events over the last year, O’Toole has struggled make inroads with voters since winning the party’s leadership race last August.

“Canadians are worried about a fourth wave of Covid-19 … Now is not the time for an election. We can all wait and go to the polls when it’s safe,” O’Toole said in a video released on social media this week.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, has warned that the country may be at on the verge of a fourth wave of the the coronavirus, driven largely by the quickly-spreading Delta variant. She said the scope of infection would likely be determined by vaccination rates.

Elections Canada, the national body that oversees elections has said it is prepared to safely conduct a vote nationwide, but warned that counts could be delayed.

Canadians will cast their ballot in five weeks September 20, the shortest election campaign allowed under federal law.