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Canadians voted on Monday in a tightening pandemic election that threatens to undermine Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or even throw him out of power.

Trudeau waged early elections to win a majority of seats in parliament. But the opposition has been relentless in accusing Trudeau of calling an unnecessary early vote during the pandemic – two years before the deadline – for his own personal ambition.

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Polls indicate Trudeau’s Liberal party is in a face-off with rival Conservatives. Liberals are likely to win the most seats in parliament, but still fail to obtain a majority, forcing them to rely on an opposition party to pass legislation. And an extremely close result could raise questions about Trudeau’s decision and whether he should continue to lead the party for long. A majority victory will cement his legacy and leave him in power for another four years.

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“Trudeau made an incredibly stupid error of judgment,” said Robert Bothwell, a professor of Canadian history and international relations at the University of Toronto.

Trudeau entered the election, leading a stable minority government that was not in danger of being toppled.

The 49-year-old channeled the star power of his father, Liberal icon and late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, when he first won in 2015, but is a combination of high expectations, scandal and calling an election last month during the pandemic. hurt his brand.

With polling stations open across the country, Trudeau queued to vote in Montreal with his wife and children. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole with his wife voted in their local district in Ontario.

Trudeau is betting that Canadians will reward him for navigating the coronavirus crisis better than most countries. Canada is now one of the most vaccinated countries in the world and Trudeau’s government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up the economy amid the lockdown.

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Trudeau argues that the conservative approach, which has been more skeptical about lockdowns and vaccine mandates, would be dangerous and says Canadians need a government that follows science.

O’Toole did not require his party’s candidates to be vaccinated and did not say how many are unaffiliated. O’Toole describes vaccination as a personal health decision, but a growing number of vaccinated Canadians are increasingly upset by those who refuse to be vaccinated.

Trudeau said at a campaign stop in Windsor, “He is more interested in standing up for the rights of anti-vaxxers within his party than in standing up for people who do the right things and want to return to normalcy.” Huh.” Ontario on Friday.

Trudeau supports making vaccines mandatory for Canadians to travel by air or rail, which conservatives oppose. And Trudeau has pointed out that Alberta, run by a conservative provincial government, is in trouble.

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, O’Toole’s aide, said the province could be out of beds and staff for intensive care units within days. Kenny has apologized for the dire situation and is now reluctantly offering a vaccine passport and implementing a mandatory work-from-home order two months after nearly all restrictions were lifted.

A Conservative victory would represent a rebuke from Trudeau, who now risks losing office to a politician with a fraction of his name recognition. O’Toole, 47, is a military veteran, former lawyer and Member of Parliament for nine years.

O’Toole advertised himself as a “true-blue conservative” a year ago. He became leader of the Conservative Party with a pledge to “take back Canada”, but immediately began working to push the party towards the political centre.

O’Toole’s new strategy, which includes rejecting positions held dear by his party’s base on issues such as climate change, guns and balanced budgets, is designed to appeal to a wider cross.The class of voters in a country that is far more liberal than its southern neighbour.

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The son of a longtime politician has faced criticism he will say and do anything to get elected.

“I’m not your dad’s Conservative Party,” O’Toole said.

Whether liberal Canadians believe O’Toole is the progressive conservative he claims to be and whether he has alienated traditional conservatives have become central questions of the campaign.

Jenny Byrne, who served as campaign manager and deputy chief of staff to former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, said there was a lack of enthusiasm among Conservatives across the country.

“We’ll find out on Tuesday morning whether the Erin O’Toole version of the Conservative Party is engaging with voters, but if there’s any truth to the polls, it’s something I don’t think we’re connecting to the numbers we’re going to get.” are connected in the past, including the last election,” Byrne said.

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The wild card may be a politician who lost leadership of the Conservative Party in 2017 but who now leads a far-right party opposing vaccines and lockdowns. Polls suggest 5% to 10% support for Maxim Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada – potentially bleeding support from O’Toole’s Conservatives and helping the Liberals retain power.

Trudeau’s legacy includes embracing immigration at a time when the US and other countries closed their doors. He legalized cannabis nationwide and brought a carbon tax to fight climate change. And he upheld free trade agreements with the US and Mexico amid threats from former US President Donald Trump to scrap the deal.

Former US President Barack Obama and former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton tweeted in support of Trudeau, perhaps putting him in trouble.

O’Toole will not have Trump endorsement. Conservative campaign co-chair Walid Soliman said there is no alignment between O’Toole and Trumpism.

But if O’Toole wins, it has promised to take a tough stand against China, including banning Chinese technology giant Huawei from Canada’s next-generation telecommunications network.

O’Toole has also said he would move the Canadian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, just as Trump moved the US embassy, ​​carrying forward decades of policy.