Next year, Canadians may get a COVID-19 vaccine, billions in stimulus - and an election

Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren
·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens while wearing a mask at a news conference in Ottawa

By Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Next year, if all goes as planned, Canadians will get a free COVID-19 vaccine, billions of dollars in economic stimulus, and perhaps, insiders and analysts say, an early election.

Five sources familiar with the thinking in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party say a snap election is likely at some point in 2021 rather than at the scheduled end of the legislature in 2023.

But they added that current polls show a majority win is far from certain and said not everyone in the party wants a vote.

Last year, the ruling Liberals won only a minority of seats in the House of Commons, leaving them reliant on opposition parties to survive. Minority governments have traditionally not lasted more than a couple of years.

"The problem about leaving an election until 2022 is that we will look less fresh, and if people are fed up they could be looking for an alternative by then," said one senior Liberal.

Another senior Liberal source said that the spring budget, expected in March or April, would be a litmus test. Should it pass with opposition support, then an election may be off the table, at least for the first half of the year.

On Monday, Trudeau's government promised as much as C$100 billion ($77.18 billion) in temporary stimulus starting with the 2021 budget, and it is getting ready to distribute a vaccine early next year, having lined up more potential doses per capita than any other country in the world.

'A DEGREE OF CERTAINTY'

Liberal insiders say the 48-year-old Trudeau, son of Pierre who was the third-longest serving prime minister in Canadian history, is determined to lead the party into the next election and win a majority.

The government's approval rating is high, around 60%, on Trudeau's management of the pandemic, but the Liberal lead over the rival Conservative Party is only about 4 percentage points, which would probably not be enough to win a majority of seats in parliament, said Darrell Bricker, chief executive officer of Ipsos Public Affairs polling company.

"There's a degree of certainty" the government will seek a vote next year, Bricker said.

In 2021 the stimulus money will be "priming the pump" and potentially a vaccine will have restored confidence, but there will need to be positive momentum for the Liberals against their main rivals before the conditions are right, Bricker said.

If Trudeau wants a vote, he has two main options: He can deliberately make the budget so unpalatable that the opposition brings him down, or he can go to the governor-general, who is the representative of Queen Elizabeth, Canada's head of State, and ask for an election.

Another reason to try for one sooner rather than later is that the Liberals' main challengers are the Conservatives, whose leader Erin O'Toole was only elected in August, and he has had little chance to introduce himself to Canadians during the pandemic.

"I am reasonably confident none of the opposition parties wants an election right now," Trudeau said on Tuesday.

($1 = 1.2956 Canadian dollars)

(Writing by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren; Editing by Aurora Ellis)