CanadaPolitics

Snap election unlikely in Canada as European campaigns send incumbents packing

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau turned heads internationally in 2021 when he called a snap election during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was a gamble to try and secure a Liberal majority at a time when much seemed uncertain, and though the gamble failed, Canadians handed Trudeau a second and slightly stronger minority mandate.

Speculation over whether he will send voters back to the polls before the fixed election date of October 2025 has been percolating for more than a year.

But with international examples of snap elections sending incumbents packing, the federal Conservatives maintaining a healthy lead in national polling, and speculation over whether Trudeau ought to resign, it seems less likely the Liberals will want to roll those particular dice again.

In the last week alone, anti-incumbent sentiment has taken down two G7 governments.

On Sunday, France President Emmanuel Macron bet his centrist alliance on a snap vote and lost, though the risky manoeuvre appears to have thwarted the rise of a far-right party in that country.

In the United Kingdom, Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party was trounced in last week’s unusual July vote. The party that had led Britain for 14 years was reduced to Official Opposition, with Keir Starmer’s Labour taking 412 of 650 seats in Parliament.

Neither country offers a perfect comparison for Canada, though they may offer some insights, said Jerry White, an English professor at the University of Saskatchewan and the former Canada Research Chair in European Studies.

“Macron has been in trouble for a while,” he said.

He dissolved France’s National Assembly last month after his centrist party was dealt a crushing defeat by the far right in the European parliamentary elections.

The initial projections after the polls closed in France Sunday show a coalition of left-wing parties won the day with a minority, ousting Macron’s centrist party and leaving the populist, anti-immigration National Rally party to fall far behind.

Macron’s personal popularity in France has plummeted, and though he will stay on as president until 2027, he may have to share power with a prime minister who opposes most of his domestic policies.

White said the polarization in France is due in part to frustration with Macron’s leadership and a lack of a viable alternative, saying the traditional centrist core of French politics has collapsed.

“It’s been left with a kind of a technocratic elite that presents itself as being beyond politics, and a very hard left and very hard right sort of alternative that people are gravitating towards,” he said.

That provides a possible lesson for the Trudeau Liberals, who he said “have a tendency to present themselves as sort of coolly detached from all of this grubby political stuff.”

White said Macron has made the mistake of presenting himself as above the fray of politics.

“Partisanship is the game that they are in and it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he said.

In the U.K., White said there has been an “impatience with the incumbent” government after 14 years.

Sunak had until the end of the year to hold an election, but dissolved Parliament in late May.

By June, Labour was ahead by 20 points in the polls, leading many to question why the Tories would set themselves on a path to defeat.

Polls suggest Trudeau’s Liberals may be facing the same roadblock after nine years in office. Few Canadian governments have maintained power much longer.

Trudeau is expected to meet with France’s Macron and Britain’s Starmer this week when he attends the NATO leaders’ summit in Washington, D.C.

Those talks are likely to be caught up in the changing tide in the United States, where the alliance’s leaders are contending with the possibility of President Joe Biden’s electoral defeat and another Donald Trump administration.

Trudeau and his ministers have been hammered with questions about their political future since the Liberals suffered an unexpected byelection loss in a riding the party had previously held for more than 30 years.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre demanded Trudeau call a snap election after his party won the Toronto-area riding.

Trudeau mused about the challenge he and his fellow democratic leaders are up against last week as people around the world look for change when he took questions from reporters for the first time since the byelection blow.

But rather than bet on uncertain hand by sending Canadians to the polls early, Trudeau seems to be putting his faith in his government’s ability to up the ante before the next scheduled election date in 2025.

“Whether we look at what’s going on in France, whether we look at the election in the United States, whether we look at any democracy around the world where we are seeing increasing challenges to people’s well-being, greater anxieties, an erosion of democratic principles and rights, this is a really important time for governments to step up and deliver concretely for citizens.”

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