Canada networks project Trudeau to win most seats

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In this April 23, 2021 photo, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference in Ottawa. Drug maker Pfizer says, Friday, April 30, it will start sending U.S.-produced COVID-19 vaccines to Canada next week. It’s the first time the U.S. has allowed that company’s vaccine exported north. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

TORONTO (AP) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party will win the most seats in Canada’s election, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and CTV projected Monday night.

Trudeau gambled on an early election in a bid to win a majority of seats in Parliament, but it was not clear if he would do so.

The 49-year-old Trudeau channeled the star power of his father, the Liberal icon and late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, when he first won election in 2015 and now appears to have led his party to the top finish in two elections since.

Trudeau bet Canadians didn’t want a Conservative government during a pandemic. Canada is now among the most fully vaccinated countries in the world and Trudeau’s government spent hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up the economy amid lockdowns and he argued that the Conservatives’ approach, which has been skeptical of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, would be dangerous and says Canadians need a government that follows science.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole didn’t require his party’s candidates to be vaccinated and would not say how many were unvaccinated. O’Toole described vaccination as a personal health decision, but a growing number of vaccinated Canadians are increasingly upset with those who refuse to get vaccinated.

Trudeau supports making vaccines mandatory for Canadians to travel by air or rail, something the Conservatives oppose. And Trudeau has pointed out that Alberta, run by a Conservative provincial government, is in crisis.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, an ally of O’Toole, said the province might run out of beds and staff for intensive care units within days. Kenney apologized for the dire situation and is now reluctantly introducing a vaccine passport and imposing a mandatory work-from-home order two months after lifting nearly all restrictions.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

TORONTO (AP) — Canadians voted Monday in a pandemic election that could weaken Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or reward his government’s handling of the pandemic.

Trudeau gambled on an early election to try to capitalize on the fact that Canada is now among the most fully vaccinated countries in the world. But the opposition has been relentless in accusing him of calling an unnecessary early vote — two years before the deadline — for his own personal ambition.

Polls before the election showed Trudeau’s Liberal Party in a neck-and-neck race with the rival Conservatives. Early results showed Trudeau’s Liberals were hanging onto Atlantic Canada but some Conservative gains in the region appeared to portend perhaps a close race.

The Liberals were leading in 23 of the 32 seats up for grabs in the four Atlantic coast provinces — down three from the 2019 election. The Conservatives were leading in nine, more than double the four they won in 2019.

Pre election polls said the Liberals appeared likely to win the most seats in Parliament, but not a majority, forcing the party to rely on an opposition partner to pass legislation. However, an extremely close outcome could raise questions about Trudeau’s judgment in calling the vote and whether he should continue to lead the party long-term. A majority win would cement his legacy and leave him in power for another four years.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s campaign chair said holding Trudeau to a minority government would be a win for O’Toole.

“Even without a plurality (of seats) today, we will have achieved our objective,” Walied Soliman told the Toronto Star on Monday. “At the start of this race, nobody would’ve expected that we’d be in a knife fight in strongly held Liberal (districts). And today we are. And we are very proud of Erin O’Toole and the incredible campaign that has been run here.”

Jenni Byrne, who served as campaign manager and deputy chief of staff to former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told The Associated Press she was “stunned” by Soliman’s comments and said Soliman made a big mistake when Canadians are still voting.

Soliman later tried to clarify. “My comments in the Star are being misrepresented unfortunately. Let me be very clear: this election is too close to call. We may not know the result for days. Every vote will count,” he tweeted.

Polls closed across the country including in Ontario and Quebec, Canada’s largest provinces, where the election was expected to be largely decided, as well as in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and territories in the north. Long lines are reported at pools in and around Toronto, the country’s largest city.

Polls earlier closed in Atlantic Canada. Results showed the Liberals poised to hang on to most of their seats in the four easternmost provinces but the Conservatives making gains.

A combination of high expectations, scandal and calling the vote during the pandemic hurt the brand of the 49-year-old Trudeau, who channeled the star power of his father, the Liberal icon and late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, when he first won election in 2015.

Still, Trudeau is betting that Canadians don’t want a Conservative government during a pandemic. Trudeau’s government spent hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up the economy amid lockdowns and he argues that the Conservatives’ approach, which has been skeptical of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, would be dangerous and says Canadians need a government that follows science.

O’Toole hasn’t required his party’s candidates to be vaccinated and won’t say how many are unvaccinated. O’Toole describes vaccination as a personal health decision, but a growing number of vaccinated Canadians are becoming increasingly upset with those who refuse to get vaccinated.

“We do not need a Conservative government that won’t be able to show the leadership on vaccinations and on science that we need to end this,” Trudeau said at a campaign stop in Montreal on Sunday.

Trudeau supports making vaccines mandatory for Canadians to travel by air or rail, something the Conservatives oppose. And Trudeau has pointed out that Alberta, run by a Conservative provincial government, is in crisis.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, an ally of O’Toole, said the province might run out of beds and staff for intensive care units within days. Kenney has apologized for the dire situation and is now reluctantly introducing a vaccine passport and imposing a mandatory work-from-home order two months after lifting nearly all restrictions.

A Conservative win would represent a rebuke of Trudeau against a politician with a fraction of his name recognition. O’Toole, 47, is a military veteran, former lawyer and a member of Parliament for nine years.

O’Toole advertised himself a year ago as a “true-blue Conservative.” He became Conservative Party leader with a pledge to “take back Canada,” but immediately started working to push the party toward the political center.

O’Toole’s strategy, which included disavowing positions held dear by his party’s base on issues such as climate change, guns and balanced budgets, was designed to appeal to a broader cross section of voters in a country that tends to be far more liberal than its southern neighbor.

The son of a long-time politician has faced criticism he will say and do anything to get elected.

Whether moderate Canadians believe O’Toole is the progressive conservative he claims to be and whether he has alienated traditional Conservatives have become central questions of the campaign.

Byrne, the campaign manager for Conservative Prime Minister Harper, said there is a lack of enthusiasm among Conservatives across the country.

“We will know on Tuesday morning whether the Erin O’Toole version of the Conservative Party is connecting with voters, but if there is any truth to the polls, it’s something that I don’t think is connecting in numbers that we have connected with in the past, including in the last election,” Byrne said.

The wild card could be a politician who narrowly lost the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2017 but who now leads a far-right party that opposes vaccines and lockdowns. Polls suggest as many as 5% to 10% support for Maxime Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada — potentially bleeding support from O’Toole’s Conservatives and helping the Liberals retain power.

Adrian Archambault, a 53-year-old Vancouver resident, voted Liberal and said he didn’t mind the election was held during a pandemic. He noted provincial elections have also happened during the pandemic.

“Everybody has been so preoccupied with COVID the last few years it wasn’t maybe a bad thing to sort of do a re-check,” he said.

Trudeau’s legacy includes embracing immigration at a time when the U.S. and other countries closed their doors. He also legalized cannabis nationwide and brought in a carbon tax to fight climate change. And he preserved free trade deal with the U.S. and Mexico amid threats by former U.S. President Donald Trump to scrap the agreement.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama and ex-Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton tweeted support for Trudeau.

There won’t be a Trump endorsement of O’Toole. Soliman, the Conservative co-chair of the campaign, said there is no alignment whatsoever between O’Toole and Trumpism.

But if O’Toole wins, he has promised to take a tougher stand against China, including banning Chinese technology giant Huawei from Canada’s next generation of telecommunication networks.

O’Toole has also said he’ll move the Canadian Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem just as Trump moved the U.S. Embassy, upending decades of policy.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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