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This article was published 12/8/2021 (288 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is betting it’s not too risky to go to the polls amid a fourth pandemic wave as he prepares to set off a federal election campaign on Sunday.
A federal source with knowledge of the campaign plan told the Star the prime minister is expected to ask Gov. Gen. Mary Simon to dissolve Parliament Sunday, and while another confirmed that is the plan “for now,” the source indicated Trudeau could also decide to make the call Monday or later. The election date is expected to be Sept. 20.
Casting a shadow over that plan are new warnings by Canada’s top public health official, Dr. Theresa Tam who said Thursday the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, first identified in India, is driving a fourth wave of the pandemic in Canada which is now on a “strong resurgence trajectory” as provinces scramble to boost vaccination rates.
There are more than 13,000 active cases across the country, due mostly to infections hitting the unvaccinated.
Asked if it is safe to hold a federal campaign now, Tam said all organizations will have to follow local public health guidelines but she stopped short of advising against a campaign at this time.
Canada’s chief public health officer said her job was simply to provide guidance on how to hold one “safely.” Tam urged campaigners, workers and participants alike to get fully vaccinated, mask up, wash hands and gather preferably outdoors.
“I think anyone who’s campaigning must observe those best practices, and follow local public health guidance as well. But there’s different rules being applied in different areas of the country,” she said.
Much has been learned by Elections Canada and by the parties about holding elections in a pandemic. British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, not to mention the United States, have held votes.
And the three main federal parties — Liberals, Conservative, and New Democrats — are pledging to do just that: respect health guidelines as they look to bring pandemic practices — including maximizing digital tools and virtual outreach — to the campaign trail.
There will be leaders’ tours, but don’t expect to see the massive cheek-by-jowl rallies of the past even if attendees are fully vaccinated.
The Liberals are gambling that their record on pandemic management and Trudeau’s plan to continue to spend big — up to $100 billion over three years — to boost an economic recovery underpinned by new spending on child care and a “green” economic transition will appeal to voters and soothe the sting of what Opposition leaders say is a premature election call amid a pandemic.
Trudeau had weighed the idea of a spring election at one point but Canada’s staggered vaccine supply was a hot-button issue.
Now with vaccinations well underway, he is poised to ask voters to give him the majority mandate that eluded him in 2019 when he won 157 seats, and a minority government with 33.12 per cent of the vote. There’ve been shifts in party standings since then. Now he needs another 15 seats to give him that majority.
Yet the NDP say an election right now is dangerous and unnecessary because the party is willing to continue working with Liberals to help ordinary Canadians. But leader Jagmeet Singh released his election platform Thursday, outlining the NDP’s pitch to replace the Liberals.
Conservative party communications director Cory Hann said Thursday, “The Liberals should be focused on the recovery, not an unnecessary election.”
“But if they decide to throw Canada into an election, Erin O’Toole and Canada’s Conservatives will be ready” with a recovery plan to secure higher wages, more jobs and stronger economic growth, he said.
Leader Erin O’Toole spent the week outlining new policy proposals, and the party says it is in good shape financially to hit the campaign trail.
Anita Anand, the public services minister, along with international development minister Karina Gould, deflected questions Thursday about the wisdom of calling an election when so many Canadians remain unvaccinated.
Rather, they boasted of the high rate of vaccination coverage here.
So far, more than 82 per cent of eligible Canadians 12 years and older have received at least one dose and more than 71 per cent are now fully vaccinated, according to Health Canada.
“Far from lagging behind, Canada has been leading the G20 for months when it comes to the percentage of our population with at least one dose and has led for second doses since the end of July,” said Anand.
They announced Canada will donate another 10 million “surplus” vaccine doses to the COVAX global vaccine sharing program for the developing world. The doses will come from Canada’s contract with the American manufacturer, Janssen, for single-dose vaccines.
Anand said that Canada had received enough vaccine doses by the end of July — 66 million — largely through contracts with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadian. That was two months ahead of schedule, she said.
In all, as of this week, Ottawa had received a total of 70 million doses for distribution. Anand said Canada would keep a “reserve” of 4 million doses.
Health officials and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization are now looking at whether immune-compromised people should in fact receive a third dose in order to acquire protection.
The ministers said no election call has yet been made and they remain focused on their roles.
“Regardless of whether it is an election, a picnic, a concert or a sporting event, public health guidelines must be observed, and that is what we will continue to advocate as a government right across the board, until we get to the other side of the pandemic,” Anand said.
New daily reported COVID-19 cases have doubled over the past two weeks to about 1,500 a day on average.
Those new infections are almost all among unvaccinated Canadians, particularly in the 20–39-year age group.
Breakthrough infections among vaccinated Canadians make up less than one per cent of hospitalized cases, said Tam, and there are no cases of patients hospitalized with COVID who were 14 days past their second vaccine dose.
Yet there are worrying signs that severe illness with the Delta variant is increasing, with a 12 per cent increase in the past week in the number of people needing hospital treatment for COVID.
Less than half of those have needed intensive care, and deaths remain low so far, with seven new deaths on average reported daily.
Nevertheless, Tam said vaccinations are the key weapon in preventing severe illness and she appealed to Canadians to get inoculated.
Tam said millions of eligible people have not yet gotten their shots.
Asked if there should be a more aggressive approach by governments to promote vaccination by using vaccine passports or making vaccines mandatory for federal workers, Tam said Canadian vaccine uptake has been “successful to a huge extent,” but she acknowledged, “that last mile as everybody calls it is a difficult one.”
She said only that “everything is being looked at.”
Find the Star's federal election coverage here
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc