Federal Election cat and mouse games begin

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In a minority situation, an election can happen at any time if parties clash on spending priorities. But these are not ordinary times. In the middle of a pandemic, even getting to the polls is complicated.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on September 28, 2020.

OTTAWA—The election cat and mouse games begin.

In a minority situation, an election can happen at any time if parties clash on spending priorities.

But these are not ordinary times. In the middle of a pandemic, even getting to the polls is complicated.

The British Columbia government just called an Oct. 24 election. Hours after the call, it was revealed that voting results could take weeks to tabulate.

Because of the second wave of the pandemic, many people are limiting their movement amongst larger crowds.

Within hours of the election call, 20,000 requests for mail-in ballots had been sent to Elections BC.

According to officials, they expect a mail-in participation of up to 40 per cent, which means 800,000 ballots, compared to only 6,500 people in the 2017 campaign.

Election law says that absentee ballots cannot be tallied until the final results of the polls are counted, and that could be up to 13 days after the vote.

Given Canada Post’s COVID-based backlog as more people shop via the internet, the arrival of that many ballots could clog up the system for up to three weeks.

British Columbia Premier John Horgan called the snap election a year sooner than the end of his mandate, but his announcement came as no surprise. He and his team have been busy rolling out pre-election promises for weeks.

The early call is a gamble for Horgan, but he is also banking on the pandemic bounce that has been felt by leaders across the country.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs recently launched a similar quick COVID call two years into his minority mandate and was rewarded with a comfortable majority.

Popularity numbers for Ontario Premier Doug Ford and François Legault have also risen during the pandemic.

Even though both provinces are plagued by high levels of contagion and an increasing concern with the arrival of the second wave, the electorate has been happy with their work.

Voters are also witnessing unprecedented federal-provincial harmony which provides a peaceful backdrop in a world pandemic that could easily morph into panic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not oblivious to the crisis bump.

When the Corona virus impact appeared to be waning, the summer was replete with scandal stories like the one that caused WE Canada to shutter its operations.

But with the return of kids to classrooms, and more people back at the workplace and larger social gatherings, the predicted second wave is upon us.

The prime minister’s televised national address was designed to promote calm but also encourage Canadians to stay the course with limited social contacts and self-distancing.

He has also set out a plan designed to put the Liberals on a collision course with all opposition parties.

On the left, New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh is doing his best to put his party’s stamp on promised items like national pharmacare and childcare.

But the Liberals are crowding their space with the intention of securing support from voters who might swing between both parties.

On the right, Erin O’Toole is going to have to refrain from coming away from the Throne Speech as Mr. No. His focus on the deficit and spending may sit well on Bay Street but it does not comfort Main Street Canadians who are losing jobs, homes and life savings because of the financial havoc wreaked by the pandemic.

Then there is the Bloc Québécois. Trudeau’s promise to introduce national standards for long-term care facilities, a direct result of the deaths of thousands of innocent seniors, has raised the hackles of the premier and the nationalists in the province.

They claim that Ottawa should merely increase health budgets and that will solve all the problems.

However, the image of the premier calling in Canadian soldiers to clean up the mess in multiple facilities was not lost on the ordinary Quebecer.

Long-term care is solely the provincial jurisdiction, but it is obvious that the basic rule of protecting the health of citizens and workers was sadly ignored in multiple institutions in more than one province.

Canadians are wise enough to know that it makes sense to work on a national plan in a pandemic that has already killed almost 10,000 people. There is a public interest argument that trumps federal-provincial fights.

Trudeau is itching to test his vision in a federal election, but he risks a backlash if the Liberals are seen to provoke it.

However, Liberals would be happy if an opposition party pulls the plug,

Meanwhile the political war games are on.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.