/Politics in a pandemic

Politics in a pandemic

By Chad Ingram

It’s been a busy week or so on the federal political stage, with a series of events that bring to question whether federal politicians might send Canadians to the polls in the midst of a pandemic.

Amid the backdrop of the WE scandal, now-former-finance-minister Bill Morneau announced his abrupt resignation on Aug. 17, for reasons supposedly unrelated to the scandal. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau then announced his intention to prorogue Parliament until late September. Prorogation means the end of a parliamentary session and the opportunity for the government to set a new agenda with a speech from the throne. In this case, it also means that committee probing of the WE scandal has conveniently stopped.

Earlier this week, voting members of the Conservative Party of Canada chose a new leader for their party. Erin O’Toole, MP for Durham for the past eight years, is now the leader of the Opposition, replacing ousted leader Andrew Scheer and beating out prominent competitor Peter MacKay, who was former leader of the Canadian PC party and a high-ranking cabinet minister in the Harper government.

A throne speech is always a non-confidence vote, which can make one an ideal time to topple a minority government. Trudeau is in a compromised position with the WE scandal swirling around him and in normal times, it might make sense to use the opportunity of a speech from the throne to trigger an election.

However, these are of course not normal times. It’s possible that the triggering of an election may backfire, with Canadians unhappy they are being asked to vote in the midst of the stress of the pandemic. It would certainly create a headache for Elections Canada, which would need to engineer a system to ensure Canadians could cast their votes safely.

While some have been critical of Trudeau’s handling of the pandemic – and with Morneau’s resignation, there are more and more questions about the sustainability of the billions in dollars of aid going out the door – crises can sometimes also be good for leaders, good for their optics. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, for example, has seen record approval ratings during the pandemic, as many Ontarians seem to agree that he’s been doing a good job of steering the province through a troublesome time. 

Certainly, at the beginning of the pandemic, we saw the regular jabs and jousts between this country’s two main parties stop for a period. Partisan rhetoric vanished as MPs approved billions of dollars in aid to anxious Canadians on the precipice of a terrifying time. With the beast of the pandemic now somewhat tamed, those days are gone, the full theatre of federal politics returning.

As for whether Canadians will be sent to the polls during a pandemic, much like with the trajectory of the pandemic itself, we’ll have to wait and see.