HAMILTON, Ont., Sept. 10 (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, facing possible defeat in the September 20 snap election, defended his decision to call the election early on Friday and said his main rival would undermine the fight against COVID-19.
Trudeau, who heads a minority Liberal government that needs opposition support to pass legislation, had hoped Canadians would reward his handling of the coronavirus pandemic with a majority in the House of Commons.
But polls show voters are unhappy that Trudeau, 49, who has held power for six years, called for a vote in a fourth wave of the pandemic. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, 48, holds a slight lead over Liberal leader, polls show.
When asked if he regrets the election call, Trudeau told reporters in Hamilton, Ont.: “Absolutely not… What we are seeing is a very clear contrast between all the different parties on how we should. move forward as a country. “
Attacked daily by his rivals for taking Canadians to the polls this month, Trudeau struggled to steer the campaign towards political issues. He is running out of time.
On Friday, a day after an inconclusive leaders’ debate, Trudeau lambasted O’Toole for arguing that COVID-19 vaccinations are a personal choice and should not be mandatory.
Unlike the Conservative leader, Trudeau is demanding that his fellow Liberal candidates be vaccinated against the virus and last month his center-left government introduced vaccination warrants for domestic travel.
“It is better and faster for defending the rights of those who choose not to be vaccinated than it is for the rights of your wife and children to be free from COVID-19”, Trudeau said.
The Liberals are competing for the same center-left electorate as the smaller New Democrats of Jagmeet Singh. Trudeau, adopting the tactics he used in the 2019 election, said O’Toole could become prime minister if the progressive vote split.
“The choice is clear in this election. Don’t let Jagmeet Singh tell you that there is no difference between a Liberal government or a Conservative government,” he said.
Speaking earlier, Singh told reporters that “you don’t have to choose between two arguing parties over who is the worst … the best is possible.” (See the brief profiles of all the candidates:)
The home stretch of the campaign began after Statistics Canada reported that the national unemployment rate fell to 7.1% in August, its lowest level during the pandemic. Read more
“We have now recovered 95% of the jobs lost during the COVID recession,” said Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, speaking alongside Trudeau.
A Nanos Research poll of 1,200 voters on Thursday showed that the Conservatives had 33.3% support and the Liberals 31.3%. Left-wing New Democrats had 19.2%.
Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa Editing by Paul Simao and David Gregorio
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