Trudeau campaign energised by anti-vaccine and far-right protests
When he was pelted with a handful of gravel by anti-vaccine protesters last week, the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, joined an illustrious list of political leaders who have had things hurled at them by disgruntled citizens. But the gravel incident – which led to a protester being charged with assault – has thrust the image of a prime minister on the defensive to the forefront of an election that, for many, is unwanted and has so far lacked a coherent theme.
Days before the country votes, numerous polls suggest that most Canadians don’t believe the election is necessary. And Trudeau now trails the Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole, a former air force navigator, by an average of nearly two points in national polls.
Despite this, Trudeau’s fate isn’t necessarily tied only to public opinion. Conservative support is strongest in areas such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, where fewer seats can be won. The Liberals, conversely, do well in seat-rich provinces like Ontario and Quebec. And with most voters only recently starting to pay attention to the 36day campaign, Trudeau has had the chance to salvage his chances of a third win when Canadians go to the polls on Monday.
In recent weeks, a wave of protests have drawn attention to a virulent anti-vaccine movement, as well as the growing influence of the far-right People’s party of Canada, whose supporters are fixtures of the protests. The party has campaigned for years on an anti-immigrant, Islamophobic populist platform, with little electoral success. But months of public lockdowns have given the party an opportunity to channel mounting frustrations – largely among male voters. “[The People’s party] has taken this antivaccine, anti-lockdown, anti-mask platform and connected a more traditional, hard-right agenda. And that’s given them a lift in the polls that we haven’t really seen before,” said Andrew McDougall, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto.
The PPC still has low electoral prospects even in its best-case scenario, but it has nonetheless overtaken the Green party, which is mired in political infighting. Sensing an opportunity to shift the narratives of the campaign, Trudeau has repeatedly attacked O’Toole’s refusal to embrace vaccine mandates.
The protests have given Trudeau’s campaign something that was missing, said Aaron Wherry, a CBC journalist. After an event was cancelled due to protests, Trudeau met reporters. “That was the first time it felt like he got some real energy,” said Wherry. “Up until then, it felt like he’d been grasping for an idea or a narrative. This seemed like the first time he’d hit his stride.”