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Canadians Will Decide Justin Trudeau's Fate In Monday Election

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tomorrow is Election Day in Canada. Voters will determine whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party get to hang on to power. Trudeau himself called the snap election in August in the hope of winning back a larger margin of control in Canada's parliament, but polls have shown a tight race in the final days of the campaign. Reporter Emma Jacobs has more from Montreal.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an early election last month, he said Canadian voters deserved a chance to weigh in on big decisions the government will make as Canada emerges from the pandemic. He even evoked the end of World War II.

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PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: This is a moment where we're going to be taking decisions that will last not just for the coming months, but for the coming decades. And Canadians deserve their say.

JACOBS: Trudeau seemed to believe Liberals could regain majority control of parliament based on his handling of the pandemic and the generous spending programs his government introduced. But early in this short campaign, the polls made that look like a risky bet. Andrew McDougall is an assistant professor of Canadian politics at the University of Toronto.

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: For a time, it looked as though - and this is still a possibility at this point - that he may actually lose the election.

JACOBS: Trudeau, who currently leads a minority government with a plurality of seats in parliament, could end up with fewer seats than his party's main political rivals, the Conservatives, and lose his job as prime minister.

MCDOUGALL: Now, his polls have recovered quite a bit. And it looks like now he's back on track to at least get back into power. But, you know, the fact that it came so close shows that this was not a calculation that paid off the way that he wanted it to.

JACOBS: A new conservative leader, Erin O'Toole, has staked out his position as a centrist, explains Ihor Korbabicz of Abacus Data, a Canadian polling and research firm.

IHOR KORBABICZ: The Conservatives this time around have put forward a very moderate platform for Canadians to consider compared to the Canadian - typical conservative Canadian traditions.

JACOBS: He's to the left of some current party members on issues like abortion and climate policy, leading a debate moderator, Shachi Kurl, to ask if O'Toole or his party caucus would actually make conservative policy.

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SHACHI KURL: So is it you, sir, or your caucus that's driving the bus?

ERIN O'TOOLE: I am driving the bus to make sure we get this country back on track.

JACOBS: Trudeau's campaign bus has been pursued and his events disrupted by anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protesters. Many appear to support a far-right party that has grown its support in recent months. The People's Party of Canada currently holds no seats in parliament. Again, professor Andrew McDougall.

MCDOUGALL: What they seem to have done is link the resentment that many people feel about lockdowns, vaccine mandates, mask mandates and connect it to its very hard-right platform. And this is giving it a lift that it's never really seen before.

JACOBS: He says political observers will be watching to see whether their supporters turn out to vote and whether their strength will impact conservative candidates in tight races. Between mail-in and early voting, more than 6 million people have already cast ballots in Canada's first national election of the pandemic. Counting the higher than normal number of mail-in ballots won't start until the day after the election, so close races may not be called on election night. For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Montreal.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.