Last weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited new Governor General (and the first Inuk GG in history!) Mary Simon, formally requesting to dissolve Parliament and announcing a federal election. It’s a move that many Canadians have been expecting for some time now, in part because Trudeau is gunning for a majority government, and banking on the boost in popularity his party experienced during the pandemic to get there (more on that later).
And Canadians have some feelings — and not all of them are super positive. Regardless of whether or not eligible Canadians want to vote during a global pandemic, we’ll be heading to the polls next month. Here, everything you need to know about voting in the upcoming federal election, including what voting will look like thanks to COVID.
So, when is the 2021 federal election?
Sooner than you think. Unlike the politicians in our neighbours to the south — who run year-long campaigns — election periods in Canada are typically only a few months long. In this snap election, Canadians will be voting on September 20, with the campaign coming in at just 36 days, the shortest election period possible under federal law. Which is actually pretty strategic. Not just because Trudeau is currently topping early polling (less time for people to change their minds, he hopes) and also because campaigns are pretty pricey. “The longer the campaign, the more expensive it's going to be,” says Allan Tupper, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia.
Between travel, campaign ads (like the random Willy Wonka ad put out by the Conservatives), and the cost of candidates marketing themselves, “these are expensive undertakings,” Tupper says. Campaigns are covered by individual candidates and parties, of course, but elections themselves cost taxpayers money. And this one, because of COVID restrictions, including pandemic safety measures and the number of mail-in ballots anticipated, is expected to cost $610 million, which is $100 million more than the 2019 election. (So, no chump change).
This cost is one of the initial criticisms of the upcoming election; along with the critique that amidst a global pandemic and everything going else going on in the world — it was not lost on people that Trudeau announced the election while the Taliban took Kabul and the Canadian embassy was closing — there are bigger concerns and other things we should be focusing on or spending money on besides an election.
Why would Trudeau even call an election now?
That’s an easy one. The Liberals, who currently have a minority government (this means that the party won less than 170 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons, and must work with and needs the support of other parties to pass legislation), think this is their best chance to win a majority government “Generally, when the numbers come in and suggest that [a party’s] in a position to move from a minority to a majority government like Trudeau is, you’ll call an election,” Tupper says.
And it works both ways. If, for instance, the NDP or Conservative parties felt that polling and public favour showed they could move their numbers towards more seats in the House, they could also press the current government to call an election.
Another reason Trudeau could be calling an election now, says Tupper, has a lot to do with the pandemic — how the Liberal government has handled it thus far, and checking in with Canadians about whether or not they are on board with the party's vision. He may be hoping that the Liberal government’s steadfastness when it comes to COVID will appeal to voters, especially in light of the *perfectly timed* recent announcements requiring federal employees and travellers in and across the country be vaccinated. “It's clear that there's many more people who want vaccinations, who are double vaccinated, and who are very dismissive and in some cases angry with people who aren't vaccinated because they see that as the continuing transmission," says Tupper.
During a period of time when COVID vaccination is a divisive topic — and with more than half of Canadians supporting mandatory vaccines — what could have turned out as a PR nightmare for the Liberal party (holding an election during a global pandemic, and seemingly eschewing safety concerns for voters), has actually been beneficial according to pundits, especially in part thanks to Conservative party leader Erin O’Toole, who faced criticism after the election was announced for failing to commit to having all Conservative candidates vaccinated.
What are Trudeau’s chances of winning a majority?
Election results will probably be pretty close — something the Liberal government is most likely aware of. Early Ipsos polling already has the Liberals ahead, finding that if the election were held immediately, Liberals would get 36% of the vote, Conservatives 31%, and the Jagmeet Singh-led NDP would get 20% of the vote. But as it stands, it doesn’t look promising for a Liberal majority government. According to the same poll, just over 40% of those surveyed said the Trudeau government had done a good job thus far and deserved re-election, while 57% posited that it’s time for another party to take over.
Of course, polls don't always predict elections. “It's always a very human process, and I think you can get pretentious when you begin to think you know exactly what's going to happen. The political parties know this; they’re always gambling," says Tupper. “It's quite clear it's going to be an election of inches, not yards — it's going to be tightly fought.”
What are the big issues?
That’s a whopper of a question; because tbqh there are so many issues of importance to consider, with climate change (because you know, the world is literally burning at the moment), affordable housing, cost of living, the economy, and healthcare top-of-mind issues for Canadians, according to a recent Ipsos poll. And candidates know that it's time to put the pedal to the metal. Just one day after announcing the election, Trudeau unveiled a new economic recovery plan in light of the COVID pandemic, while O'Toole released his platform, which includes phasing out COVID-19 support plans and ramping up tourism as well as support for small businesses. Check out all the candidates platforms here. (Refinery29 will be updating this post as the campaign continues.)
What will it be like voting during COVID?
Let’s just say there’ll be lots of hand sanitizer involved. For now, Elections Canada is optimistic that it’ll be business as usual — with a few extra precautions of course.
While people can choose to vote by special ballot and mail in their vote (make sure you apply as soon as possible, and plan ahead to allow enough time for your special ballot voting kit to arrive, be completed and returned via mail by election day) most of us will be voting in-person.
For the rest of us voting either at polls or Elections Canada offices, you can expect the same protocols we’ve come to know from going to the grocery store or popping into Aritzia...but with a slight twist. Along with sanitizing stations at all entrances and exits, as well as the implementation of physical distancing for voters and poll workers (everyone will be wearing masks too, of course), media relations for Elections Canada says Canadians can expect to use single-use pencils (meaning you’ll be the only person touching your pencil when it’s time to cast your vote).
Matt McKenna, media relations for Elections Canada, told Refinery29 via email that one hurdle to in-person voting will be identifying polling locations that’ll be open and available to use with proper social-distancing protocols, during a pandemic. “This means that polling places may be in unusual locations or slightly further from electors’ homes.” Meaning that the location you cast your ballot in the 2019 election may not be the same place you’d go to vote in this election; so make sure to research before September 20. “We know that things take a bit longer during the pandemic, so we encourage all voters to plan early, no matter how they decide to vote,” McKenna says
See you at the polls!