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A minority government, but no time for an election

If a federal election were held today, Justin Trudeau would be in the best position to fight that battle. A Leger poll released this week shows 38 per cent of decided voters would vote for the Liberals, compared to 30 per cent for the Conservatives, 18 per cent for the NDP and six per cent for the Greens.

Trudeau tops most of the categories as respondents judged the party leaders for communication skills, caring, charisma, decisiveness and intelligence. Perhaps not surprisingly given the number of ethics issues involving the government, the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh leads when it comes to honesty and integrity.

For the most part, the poll is good news for Trudeau and not uplifting for newly minted Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, who finished well behind both Trudeau and Singh in most categories – in judging who would keep Canadians safe from a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, for instance, 39 per cent picked Trudeau, while 13 per cent said O’Toole.

Undertaken just as the Conservatives were choosing O’Toole as their new leader, the poll found 37 per cent of respondents were less likely to vote for the party with him at the helm versus 13 per cent who said they’d be more likely to do so. Overall, most Canadians simply don’t know anything about him.

O’Toole’s unknown status is likely to be a factor in reducing the likelihood of another election this year. Trudeau is set to table a throne speech when the House resumes September 23 following a prorogued session. As the resultant vote would be a confidence matter, there’s a chance the minority government could fall, though it’s likely none of the parties wants to rehash last year’s election battle.

Finances are a concern for all parties so quickly after the last election, especially for the NDP. For the Conservatives, they’d certainly like more time before throwing O’Toole into the fray. The Green party is still searching for a new leader. The Liberals might like to take a shot at a return to majority status, taking advantage of the goodwill their handling of the crisis might have engendered, but an election in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t likely.

We need only look to the south to see what kind of wrench the coronavirus situation has thrown into the electoral process. There’s no way we want to go down that road if it can be avoided. For election-oriented entertainment, a Canadian election couldn’t compete with what’s going on in the U.S., even though much of it leaves us scratching our heads on this side of the border.

Canadians certainly have more pressing priorities than dealing with an election campaign, virtual or otherwise.

That said, Elections Canada has been preparing should a confidence vote send us back to the polls. The agency has put together an internal task force to ensure the voting remains “accessible, safe and healthy” for electors and workers. That’s likely to include more voting by mail, an option that will certainly be met with much less vitriol than in the U.S., where voter suppression is a key part of the Republican strategy.

Officials will certainly want to avoid having voters stand in long lines, increasing the risk of transmitting the virus. Mail-in voting eliminates that kind of risk, with other measures such as additional polling stations spread out over a wider area also serving to lower the risk. There are also options for more advance polls and/or voting at Elections Canada offices. The agency says it is exploring a range of options, though some may require changes to the Canada Elections Act, which falls to the House.

Ideally, this will be a non-issue, at least until the pandemic has passed. In the absence of a move to unseat the minority government, Canadians are scheduled to vote again on or before Oct. 23, 2023.

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