Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signalled Wednesday that he isn’t interested in asking Canadians for a new mandate any time soon, despite unprecedented spending from Ottawa and major choices his government is making because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I haven’t heard a lot of Canadians demanding an election right now but obviously, in a minority Parliament, Parliament gets to decide when it no longer has confidence in the government,” he told reporters at his daily briefing in Ottawa.
“Certainly the focus we have, moving forward, is trying to respond to help Canadians as best we can in the immediate.”
Though Canadians voted in a federal election in October, a reporter asked Trudeau if they should again get a chance, at some point, to weigh in on the direction the country is headed in light of the crisis.
Watch: Trudeau to co-host UN conference on post-pandemic reconstruction
The prime minister said while the government has made “unprecedented investments” to help Canadians weather the storm, there will be many more challenges in the coming years, including restoring the economy in a cleaner, greener fashion.
“There will be many debates in Parliament and eventually in an election, but I’m not going to speculate on when that might be,” he said.
The two apparent front-runners to replace Andrew Scheer as Conservative leader — former cabinet minister Peter MacKay and Ontario MP Erin O’Toole — both pledged in early March to try to force an early election as soon as possible.
MacKay, O’Toole: Election isn’t ‘priority’
MacKay, who once raised eyebrows by calling for the Tory leadership contest to be moved up because of the pandemic, has seemingly backed off his push for a fall election.
In an interview with Global News’ “The West Block” that aired Sunday, MacKay was asked if he still felt Conservatives should try to bring down Trudeau’s government in October.
MacKay said that “COVID-19 has changed everything,” and requires “an all-hands-on-deck approach” to tackle health and economic challenges.
“And so, as far as an election is concerned, I don’t think that is the priority for the country.”
In a statement to HuffPost Canada Wednesday, O’Toole also suggested he isn’t as eager to head back to the polls.
“Canadians are struggling more than ever. Right now the priority needs to be rebuilding our country,” he said, adding he looks forward to the House of Commons resuming as normal so Tories can hold the Trudeau government to account.
With 121 of the 338 MPs in the House of Commons, Conservatives would need the support of the Bloc Québécois’ 32 MPs and the 24 NDP MPs to take down the Liberal government, a tall order at the best of times.
Though a fixed election date is set for Oct. 16, 2023, there is no law that prevents Trudeau from asking the Governor General to head to the polls sooner, as his predecessor Stephen Harper did in 2008.
Elections Canada is also preparing for the possibility the Liberal government could fall during the pandemic, warning legislative changes would be needed if the vote were to be decided entirely by mail-in ballot.
On Tuesday, the Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux gave another sense of what the emergency spending over the past three months has done to Canada’s fiscal firepower. Giroux told the Senate finance committee that he estimates the federal deficit for the year has risen to roughly $260 billion, and warned the current level of spending isn’t sustainable for more than a few years.
At his briefing, Trudeau touted his government’s measures, including the $2,000-per-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) for workers who saw their income dry up due to the crisis. The program is currently set to expire in early October.
PM discusses ‘phasing out’ programs
However, the prime minister also opened the door to “phasing out” or modifying programs in light of the gradual reopening of the economy across the country.
“Now, as provinces and territories restart some activities and many people head back to work, fewer people will need the help of the CERB,” he said, adding the government’s emergency wage-subsidy program will continue to support Canadians in the coming weeks.
“I think we all know that the gradual reopening of our economy will require a phasing out or an ending of certain programs and a continuation or modification of others,” he said.
The prime minister added Canada is still “very much in the emergency phase” of the crisis, where the focus is on helping vulnerable Canadians and controlling the spread of the virus.
With a file from The Canadian Press