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Timing of federal election will likely depend on COVID-19 vaccinations, experts say

Last Updated Jan 13, 2021 at 12:52 pm PST

FILE - A voter casts a ballot in the 2011 federal election in Toronto on May 2, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Summary

Will Canadians head to the polls this year? Experts say it's likely timing of a federal vote will be tied to vaccines

With recent cabinet shuffle, high polling numbers, and vaccine rollout, federal election speculation continues to grow

If vaccination efforts go well, political experts believe an election could be called for late spring or early summer

OTTAWA – COVID-19 vaccinations have only just started in Canada, but as the rollout ramps up, experts say it becomes more and more likely Canadians will see a pandemic election.

With a recent cabinet shuffle, high polling numbers for the Liberals, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau not ruling out a potential vote, election speculation is growing.

“We’re probably looking at something like a June election,” says Lori Williams, Mount Royal University political scientist.

She and others believe that call is going to be strongly tied to vaccines. If the rollout goes well and tens of millions of doses arrive in the second quarter as planned, then Williams sees a good possibility the prime minister will call a vote in late spring or early summer.

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“The more successful the dealing with COVID-19 is, the more likely we’re to see an earlier election,” she adds.

If immunization rollout doesn’t go well, then a vote could be delayed or the opposition may try to take down this minority government.

David Taras, a professor of journalism at Mount Royal University, says either way, vaccines will likely be the main topic of any election held in Canada this year.

“That’s the standard against which governments will be judged, ‘Did you save my life when I needed you there?'” he explains.

While June seems to be a likely time for a vote, many experts agree the federal government would wait until after the spring budget — which will have major spending and promises, like national child care — for any election.

Stephanie Plante, a political analyst with Carleton University, notes there have been several provincial pandemic elections, and all of them have been good to the incumbent.

“So the wheels of democracy do keep going, even during a pandemic. And I think Justin Trudeau’s hoping to capitalize on that,” she says.

Elections Canada has already been preparing for the possibility of a COVID election and if legislation passes, it could include more mail-in ballots and multi-day voting.