By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is planning a snap election for Sept. 20 to seek voter approval for the government’s costly plans to combat COVID-19, four sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
Trudeau is set to make the announcement on Sunday, said the sources, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation. Trudeau aides have said for months that the ruling Liberals would push for a vote before end-2021, two years ahead of schedule.
Trudeau only has a minority government and relies on other parties to push through legislation. In recent months he has complained about what he calls opposition obstruction.
The Liberals racked up record debt levels as they spent to shield individuals and businesses from COVID-19. They plan to inject another C$100 billion ($80 billion) – between 3% and 4% of GDP – into the economy over the next three years.
Trudeau came to power in 2015 with a majority of the 338 seats in the House of Commons, but in 2019 he was reduced to a minority after old photos emerged of him wearing blackface.
“Circumstances have changed massively since 2019. We need to know whether Canadians support our plans for economic recovery,” said one of the sources.
Opposition parties say the election is both unnecessary and risky, given a worsening fourth wave of COVID-19.
“Mr. Trudeau has made his priority this selfish summer election and a try for a power grab,” New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh said in statement emailed to Reuters.
Growth is set to rebound in the third quarter and Canada currently has one of the world’s best inoculation rates.
Investors are looking for signs that Canada’s next government could dial back the fiscal spending, with activity already on track to make a full recovery.
The sources said that as the campaign advanced, the Liberals would remind Canadians of the government’s record.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand said that at end-July, Canada had received more than 66 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, enough to fully inoculate every eligible person.
“This milestone was reached a full two months ahead of the original goal … it is a direct result of our aggressive and proactive procurement approach,” she told reporters on Thursday.
Liberals acknowledge an election now would be a gamble, given recent opinion polls suggest the party is not yet guaranteed a majority and the risk posed by the fourth wave of COVID-19.
Chief Public Health Officer Teresa Tam on Thursday reported a strong resurgence in cases.
The official opposition Conservatives, Trudeau’s main rivals, say his spending is excessive and will leave future generations hobbled by debt.
A survey by Abacus on Thursday put the Liberals at 37% and the Conservatives at 28%.
The online poll of 3,000 people, conducted between Aug. 6 and 11, suggests Trudeau could well regain control of the House of Commons. The Liberals currently hold 155 of the 338 seats.
($1 = 1.2516 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell)