Canada votes as Trudeau, clouded by scandals, tries to hold power

Justin Trudeau and family put his ballot for today's election in the ballot box in the Papineau area of Montreal. (Reuters)

Canadians were voting on Monday to determine whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who swept into office four years ago as a charismatic figure promising “sunny ways,” will remain in power after two major scandals.

The first polls in what is considered a neck-and-neck race between Trudeau’s Liberals and the main opposition Conservatives led by Andrew Scheer were set to close shortly in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, with voting ending in the Pacific Coast province of British Columbia at 7 p.m. (0200 GMT on Tuesday)

Trudeau, 47, the Liberal Party leader, was endorsed by former US President Barack Obama in the final stretch of the campaign and is viewed as one of the last remaining progressive leaders among the world’s major democracies.

But he was shaken during the campaign by a blackface scandal and has been dogged by criticism of his handling of a corruption case involving a major Canadian construction company. Trudeau, the son of the late Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, has also had to overcome a sense of fatigue with his government.

Trudeau, accompanied by his family, voted in Montreal on Monday after a marathon sprint campaigning across the country in the past four days.

On Twitter, he repeatedly urged people to get out and vote. Voter turnout is crucial for the Liberals, who privately fear low engagement will affect them more than the Conservatives.

“The truth is it’s a coin toss right now,” Ipsos pollster Darrell Bricker said.

A year ago, no one would have predicted that Trudeau risked becoming the first prime minister since the 1930s to secure a parliamentary majority and then fail to win a second term.

The latest opinion polls suggest he may narrowly avert that result and could win a minority in the 338-seat House of Commons. That would still leave him in a weakened position and needing the support of left-leaning opposition parties to push through key pieces of legislation.

“(A minority government) would force people to talk to each other, which is what we need,” said Naomi Higgins, a 25-year-old voter in Toronto who supported the Liberals four years ago but switched to the Greens in this election. “We need to ... start doing what’s best for everyone instead of what makes one party or the other look best.”

Liberal campaign strategists say four members of Trudeau’s Cabinet could lose their parliamentary seats, including Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, a veteran member of parliament who is seen as one of the government’s heavyweights.

Goodale, 70, is the only Liberal member of parliament from the western province of Saskatchewan, where anger at Trudeau is mounting over federal environmental policies that the energy industry says will harm output.

The oil industry’s top lobbying group has blamed Trudeau’s policies for throttling investment in the sector, and some global energy companies have shed assets in the oil sands region of Alberta, the country’s main oil-producing province.

Canada’s economy, however, has been on a general upswing in 2019. The Canadian dollar has been the best-performing G10 currency this year, rising more than 4 percent against its US counterpart, as the economy added jobs at a robust pace and inflation stayed closed to the Bank of Canada’s 2 percent target.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:54 - GMT 06:54
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