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Canadians go to the polls today


There's a national election in Canada today, but many Canadians are wondering, why?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the snap election to try to win more seats for his Liberal Party. But Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole — who's polling neck-and-neck with Trudeau — has hit back hard, calling the election “reckless” and “irresponsible,” especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein talked more about it with Christopher Kirkey, director of the Center for the Study of Canada at SUNY Plattsburgh.

North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein talks with Christopher Kirkey, director of the Center for the Study of Canada at SUNY Plattsburgh

CK: They're just sort of saying to themselves, 'why do we need an election? Now?' There wasn't anything particularly pressing. Yes, we're in the middle of a very challenging environment with COVID. There is no question about that. And there's a lot of work still to be done in terms of dealing with the Delta variant and getting more Canadians fully vaccinated, including children, ultimately. But the truth is a lot of people are saying there really wasn't necessarily a pressing need.

DS: Was it about consolidating power, trying to build more Liberal representation in Parliament?

CK: It was. The last federal election in Canada in 2019 returned a minority government, with the Liberal Party effectively being dependent on a coalition of members from the New Democratic Party, sometimes the Conservative Party, and the Bloc Quebecois to pass individual pieces of legislation. They didn't have a sort of standing regularized coalition. And I think the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau was looking at the polls, he was talking to his advisors and said, you know what, if you're any political party in the British parliamentary system, as is the case in Canada, you want to have a majority government situation, so that you have the ability not to have to rely on the votes and the whims and the demands, if you will, of other parties. You want to be able to do what you want to do, and obviously, there are constraints on that right now. So he felt that, hey, things are looking positive. And Trudeau checked with his pollsters, checked with his advisors, and said, 'let's call it now.'

DS: So what's at stake in this election right now?

CK: What's at stake is a very good question. Because once again, Canadians are still somewhat baffled as to why they're in the midst of a national election. There's the management, of course, of the economy. There's the management of the pandemic. In Canada, there are questions surrounding indigenous rights and indigenous reconciliation that most people feel have not been fully addressed over time. But there's no, I suppose, central, overarching issue. There's also a sense that Mr. Trudeau is a bit detached and a bit imperial, when it comes to his style of governance and the fact that he is not connecting, as well as he otherwise could have, with the general Canadian populace, as he did when he came into office in 2015. By contrast, some of the other party leaders, Jagmeet Singh from the New Democratic Party, and Erin O'Toole, in particular, from the Conservative Party, have worked very hard to make those connections. Conservatives, most especially, have sort of taken a page from the Boris Johnson school in the UK, and to some degree, Donald Trump's 2016 presidential election victory here in the United States, and sort of tried to craft a more populist message going to the working class, effectively what we'll call the white working class, to try and get their support. And it's been working so far, particularly for the conservatives.

DS: So could this whole thing really come back to bite Prime Minister Trudeau?

CK: It certainly could. It certainly could. Because you know, what the election polling is telling us, by all accounts, is showing that effectively the Conservatives and the Liberals
are running neck and neck with the percentage of the popular vote somewhere in the low to mid 30%. And then followed by the NDP at about 20%, and then other parties such as the Bloc Quebecois, and so on. So what most prognosticators are suggesting is that one way or the other, whether it's Mr. Trudeau, whether he emerges with the larger share of the 338 seats or Mr. O'Toole does, that it will be a minority government situation. And they'll have to rely on the support of other parties for legislation to be passed. Ironically enough, Mr. Trudeau, should he return to power, he may even be returned to power with a less forceful standing in the House of Commons, numerically speaking, and need to, even more than before he called the election, rely on the external support of other parties to have legislation passed.

David Sommerstein, a contributor from North Country Public Radio (NCPR), has covered the St. Lawrence Valley, Thousand Islands, Watertown, Fort Drum and Tug Hill regions since 2000. Sommerstein has reported extensively on agriculture in New York State, Fort Drum’s engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lives of undocumented Latino immigrants on area dairy farms. He’s won numerous national and regional awards for his reporting from the Associated Press, the Public Radio News Directors Association, and the Radio-Television News Directors Association. He's regularly featured on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Only a Game, and PRI’s The World.