Federal Conservatives are again goading Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call byelections, while highlighting how a Liberal Quebec riding is on the cusp of having no representation in the House of Commons for nine months.
Tory Leader Andrew Scheer made his push in a statement Friday, accusing Trudeau of playing "political games" last fall by only calling one byelection in Ontario, despite the fact that three other seats — Quebec's Outremont, British Columbia's Burnaby South, and Ontario's York-Simcoe — are also vacant.
"As 2019 begins, Justin Trudeau is once again putting his own partisan interests ahead of Canadians who deserve to have their voices heard in Parliament," Scheer said in the release. "Four seats are currently vacant, but Trudeau refuses to commit to calling all four by-elections."
Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Tory Leader Andrew Scheer look ahead to 2019 election
A fourth seat opened up this week when Sheila Malcolmson, who won the B.C. riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith for New Democrats in 2015, resigned to run for the provincial NDP in a critically important byelection.
While Trudeau can wait up to six months to call a byelection after a seat is vacated, the political calculus has changed because of a recently passed Liberal omnibus bill to reform Canada's election laws. Bill C-76 changed the rules to prohibit calling a byelection within nine months of a fixed federal election, such as the one set for Oct. 21.
This means that if Trudeau does not call a byelection in Nanaimo-Ladysmith by Jan. 20, the riding will be without an MP until after the fall vote. When asked if a decision will come this month, Chantal Gagnon, a spokeswoman for the prime minister, told HuffPost Canada via email that a byelection "will be called in due course."
According to his public itinerary, the prime minister is currently taking personal time in Whistler, B.C.
Meanwhile, the riding of Saint-Léonard-Saint-Michel is guaranteed to have no representation in the months ahead because Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio, who was mockingly dubbed "missing" due to his lengthy time away from Parliament Hill last fall, will quit on Jan. 22. Di Iorio's decision to leave at that time ensures there cannot be a byelection to replace him before the federal election.
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"Having imposed this new deadline through Bill C-76, Justin Trudeau will leave voters in Saint-Léonard-Saint-Michel without representation until the fall," Scheer said.
"With Canadians increasingly fed up with Justin Trudeau's failures, voters in these vacant seats deserve the chance to have their voices heard. Justin Trudeau needs to do the right thing, and immediately call by-elections in all vacant seats."
Suspicious timing, say Tories
Last month, Tory MPs alleged in the House that the timing of Di Iorio's exit was suspicious. Though Quebec MP Gerard Deltell accused Trudeau of making a "sweetheart deal" with Di Iorio and "playing games with democracy," the prime minister simply reiterated that the outgoing Liberal would "continue to serve his community until January."
Last year, the leaders of Canada's four main opposition parties — Scheer, the NDP's Jagmeet Singh, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and interim Bloc Québécois Leader Mario Beaulieu — teamed up on a joint letter pushing Trudeau to call the contests.
"We are in complete agreement that Canadians deserve to have elected representation as soon as possible," it read.
Singh unquestionably has the most skin in the game as he is running for a seat in Burnaby South and a loss could threaten his leadership of the party. Liberals and Tories are also running candidates there, bucking a so-called "leader's courtesy" that is being honoured by the Greens.
But with the NDP struggling mightily in public opinion polls, some Conservatives have not been shy about their hope that their rivals will improve enough to siphon votes away from Liberals in tight three-way races.
Tories hope for strong NDP
Scheer's chief of staff, Marc-André Leclerc, even told HuffPost Canada's "Follow-Up" podcast last summer that he hopes Singh wins in Burnaby South.
"We need to see him more. He needs to be more proactive, so we need to make sure that the NDP has a strong leader in the House, [and] some exposure," Leclerc said at the time.
Tory strategist Jason Lietaer told the podcast that a weak NDP is an "existential threat" to anyone hoping for a Scheer government.
"We won't win the election if [the NDP] is at 10, or 15, or 18 per cent in the polls, that is the truth, we all know it," Lietaer said. "We can all do the math."
Listen to those remarks at around the 30:00 mark of the 'Follow-Up' podcast: