Canadians began voting in a general election Monday, with surveys predicting a minority government as prime minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party risks losing its majority or even being kicked out of office.
The Liberals and the Conservatives, led by Andrew Scheer, could be set for a near dead heat with pundits calling it one Canada’s closest elections ever.
Polls opened at 1100 GMT in the provinces of Labrador and Newfoundland, in eastern Canada, the first of the country’s six time zones. Polls will remain open in far western British Columbia until 0200 GMT Tuesday, although the first results are expected starting at 2300 GMT.
Some 27.4 million Canadians are eligible to elect 338 members of parliament after a tense and sometimes bitter election campaign.
Campaigning ended as it began some 40 days earlier, with polls showing a near perfect equilibrium.
Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives — the parties that have led Canada since Confederation in 1867 — is forecast to win enough support to secure an absolute majority of seats in parliament.
At final campaign stops in westernmost British Columbia on Sunday, former golden boy Trudeau made an emotional appeal to voters to enable him to build on the achievements of his first term.
He warned against Scheer’s pledged rollback of environmental protections including a federal carbon tax that discourages the use of large amounts of fossil fuels.
‘We need a strong, progressive government that will unite Canadians and fight climate change — not a progressive opposition,’ Trudeau told a rally in a suburb of Vancouver after whistle-stops in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta.
‘We need to unite as citizens. We need to unite as a planet.’
After winning in a 2015 landslide — in a repeat of the wave of support that in 1968 carried his late father Pierre to power — Trudeau’s star has dimmed while in office.
His image has been tainted by ethics lapses in the handling of the bribery prosecution of an engineering giant, while his campaign was rocked by the emergence of old photographs of him in blackface make-up.
Surging social democrats and resuscitated Quebec separatists have also chipped away at Liberal support.
If Trudeau hangs on, it will be because Scheer has struggled to win over Canadians with his bland minivan-driving dad persona and a throwback to the thrifty policies of past Tory administrations.
Canadians ‘cannot afford’ a Liberal government propped up by the third-place New Democratic Party, Scheer said at the end of a marathon last push from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans.
‘We can only imagine what the NDP’s price would be to keep Justin Trudeau in power,’ he said.
‘Whatever it is, we know Trudeau would pay any price to stay in power and he’d use your money to do it.’
‘The world needs his progressive leadership now,’ Obama said in a tweet.
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