Politics

Canada is headed for a federal election on Sept. 20

Canadian voters will head to the polls on Sept. 20. Following a meeting with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau this morning, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon approved his request to dissolve Parliament, triggering the issuing of the election writs and formally beginning Canada's 44th federal election.

Trudeau visited Rideau Hall this morning to ask for dissolution of Parliament

And they're off: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left, Conservative Party of Canada Leader Erin O'Toole, centre left, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, centre, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul. (Andrej Ivanov/AFP/Getty Images, Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press, Patrick Doyle/Reuters, Patrick Doyle/Reuters, Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Canadians will head to the polls on Sept. 20.

Following a meeting with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau this morning, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon approved his request to dissolve Parliament, triggering the issuing of the election writs and formally beginning Canada's 44th federal election.

The campaign will last 36 days — the minimum campaign length permitted by law.

Opposition parties have argued against an early election call. Canada's next fixed-date election was set for October 2023.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh went so far as to urge Simon to refuse Trudeau's request. Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said Monday he was concerned about holding a campaign during a fourth wave of the pandemic and accused Trudeau of pursuing an election in his own political "self-interest."

Governor General Mary Simon holds the formal power to dissolve Parliament, leading to an election. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

From the podium outside of Rideau Hall this morning, Trudeau pushed back against his critics, saying Canadians deserve a chance to decide who should guide the country out of the pandemic.

"In this pivotal, consequential moment, who wouldn't want a say? Who wouldn't want their chance to help decide where our country goes from here?" he said.

"So to the other parties, please explain why you don't think Canadians should get a choice, why you don't think that this is a pivotal moment. I'm focused on our real plan. I'm focused on the path forward."

Liberals leading in polls so far

At dissolution, the Liberals hold 155 seats in the House of Commons, while the Conservatives have 119, the Bloc Québécois 32, the New Democrats 24 and the Green Party two. Five seats are held by independents.

The federal Liberals continue to hold a lead in public polling, capturing 35.6 per cent of public support against 28.8 per cent for the Conservatives and 19.3 per cent for the NDP, according to CBC's Poll Tracker. That level of support puts them just in range of the 170 seats needed to form a majority government. 

The Conservatives say they plan to argue that Canadians can't afford to trust the Liberals with the country's post-pandemic economic recovery.

WATCH | Trudeau: 'We've had your back and now it's time to hear your voice'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: 'We've had your back and now it's time to hear your voice.'

1 month ago
1:12
Trudeau visited the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and launch a general election. 1:12

"This election is not about the next week, the month, or the next year. It's about the next four years. It's about who will deliver the economic recovery Canada needs," said O'Toole at his campaign launch.

"It's about who will take action to protect Canadians from spiralling living costs, from rising taxes, from poorer services."

O'Toole also wants to use the short campaign to reintroduce himself to Canadians and try to grow his party's tent with a climate plan that includes a form of carbon pricing for consumers.

"I am a new Conservative leader with a proven track record and fresh approach," he said.

  • Have an election question for CBC News? Email us: Ask@cbc.ca. Your input helps inform our coverage.

  • Find out who's ahead in the latest polls with our Poll Tracker.

Reporters asked O'Toole multiple questions about something that is shaping up to be a campaign sticking point: the party's views on mandatory vaccinations. On Friday, the Liberals announced they would require vaccinations for all federal public servants, air and train passengers.

"Conservatives would like Canadians to be able to make their own decision. We have to educate people, not force them," O'Toole said.

The NDP, meanwhile, is hoping the work New Democrat MPs did in pushing for more generous COVID-19 aid programs will resonate with Canadians at the ballot box and carry them out of fourth place.

WATCH | Conservative leader suggests election could risk Canada's gains against COVID-19

Conservative leader suggests election could risk Canada's gains against COVID-19

1 month ago
2:31
Erin O'Toole spoke with reporters on Sunday from the party's media studio in a downtown Ottawa hotel. 2:31

The party also has released a platform which promises universal pharmacare, a guaranteed livable income, free tuition and a wealth tax.

"Justin Trudeau wants to grab power and wants a majority. But why does he want a majority? It's certainly not because he wants to help more people or help people more," said Singh from Montreal, where he kicked off his campaign today.

"It's only because he wants to help people less, and people end up paying the price. He's fed up with New Democrats pushing him to deliver more help to more people, and he certainly doesn't want to put in place any measures to make the ultra-rich pay their fair share."

Trudeau asked about Afghanistan 

The Liberals are expected to point to their record on navigating the country through a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, while campaigning on commitments for the future. The party enters the campaign after the government signed agreements with multiple provinces to bring child care costs to $10 a day within five years.

On day one, Trudeau was asked about the evolving situation in Afghanistan as the Taliban enter the capital.

Hours before the official election call, the government announced Canada is shutting down its embassy in Kabul and suspending diplomatic operations in the country.

It also intends to take in as many as 20,000 additional refugees from the war-torn country.

WATCH | NDP leader says Liberals are calling 'selfish election' to gain more power

NDP leader says Liberals are calling 'selfish election' to gain more power

1 month ago
1:28
Jagmeet Singh launched his election campaign Sunday at a stop in Montreal's Plateau neighbourhood. 1:28

"We are extremely concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and I can assure you that officials and indeed ministers continue and will continue to weigh in on protecting Canadians, getting Canadians safely out of Afghanistan and continuing to step up as Canada has so many times around the world to bring people to safety," he said.

When an election is called, the federal government enters a "caretaker" mode that limits most major decisions.

Green Leader Annamie Paul launched her campaign in the riding of Toronto Centre, where she is hoping to win a seat in the House of Commons. Her party has been gripped by an internal conflict over Paul's leadership in recent months and watched one of its three MPs cross the floor to the Liberals.

Paul said she hopes Canadians gripped by climate change concerns will consider casting a ballot for a Green candidate. 

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet will once again pitch himself as the voice of Quebecers and try to take more seats away from the national parties. In 2019, he snagged 32 seats in Quebec — just three fewer than the Liberal Party.

As a sign of how important the province is, Trudeau and Singh both launched their campaigns in the province today.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet speaks to media at Place Jean-Paul Riopelle in Montreal, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. (Peter McCabe/The Canadian Press)

Trudeau also has appeared to be quite friendly with popular Quebec Premier François Legault lately, standing alongside him for a $6 billion child-care announcement earlier this month.

Blanchet said he's not worried.

"I don't feel there's a new love relation between Mr. Legault and Trudeau. I believe Mr. Legault is simply doing his job right now," he said Sunday.

"An election is a very tough moment to hide somebody and I am not of a very discrete nature. I will find my way to the ears and eyes of the population."

People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier launched his campaign Sunday by slamming the federal vaccine mandate as a "draconian" and "immoral" measure.

"I don't want to be in a society where people are asking, 'Show me your papers.' We will have two classes of citizens. That must change, we are not in a communist country," Bernier said. He also accused O'Toole and the Conservatives of being "ineffective" and "cowardly" for saying little about such a regime.

Bernier, who is unvaccinated, has been among the most vocal opponents of COVID-19 related measures like lockdowns and masking. In June, Bernier was arrested in Manitoba for defying public health orders.

Bernier's party performed poorly in the last election, winning only 1.6 per cent of the national vote. He said his campaign strategy is to woo disaffected Conservative voters who are disappointed with what he called the "LibCon'' and "Liberal-lite" party.

While Bernier was part of the last leaders' debate, he risks being left off the invite list this year because of his lacklustre performance in recent public polls. Bernier said he's confident he can gain ground in the next five days to meet the commission's threshold of four per cent in national polls to make the debate stage.

Campaign kick-offs

Trudeau kicked off his campaign with a first stop in Montreal, a key battleground for the Liberals. He entered a crowd of a few hundred people at an outdoor street festival in his own riding in Papineau. 

Some of the people in the crowd wore masks while others did I not. Some of those unmasked stood close to Trudeau to take selfies with him and didn't physically distance.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole chose to hold his first campaign event online, taking part in a virtual town-hall style event with residents of British Columbia.

Singh took part in Montreal's Pride parade this afternoon, and was approached by individuals in the crowd who wanted to take selfies with the leader. He did some early preparations for the debates, which will take place midway through the campaign, then boarded a plane to Toronto where he will hold an event Monday morning.

Election comes as new cases rise

The campaign begins as new daily cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in much of the country —with Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam saying a fourth wave is underway. 

Tam has said that, thanks to Canada's high vaccination rate, a federal election can be conducted safely by putting in place health and safety protocols.

Stéphane Perrault, Canada's chief electoral officer, called last summer for a longer campaign to give Elections Canada time to prepare health measures and logistics, though the agency says it can execute a 36-day race safely. The country's elections agency said Sunday that its preliminary analysis suggests that between two and three million Canadians might choose to vote by special ballot, mostly by mail.

Stéphane Perrault, Canada's chief electoral officer, is shown in September 2019 prior to the last federal election. Last summer, he called for a longer campaign to give Elections Canada time to prepare health measures and logistics during the pandemic. The agency says it can execute a 36-day race safely. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

The federal election is the seventh major election campaign launched in Canada since the start of the pandemic, following races in Nova Scotia, Yukon, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and New Brunswick.

According to Elections Canada, the estimated cost of the 43rd federal general election was $502 million.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catharine Tunney is a reporter with CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. She previously worked at CBC in Nova Scotia. She can be reached at catharine.tunney@cbc.ca or @cattunneyCBC.

With files from JP Tasker and Ashley Burke

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