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This article was published 18/3/2021 (258 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA—Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s inner circle is becoming increasingly convinced that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will call an election for this June.
Speculation around when the prime minister will call an election is a favourite game on Parliament Hill. But a source close to O’Toole told the Star Wednesday that they believe signs are now getting stronger that Trudeau will call a June election.
"I take the threat of a June election seriously, I take it more seriously than I did in January," said the source, who spoke to the Star on the condition they not be named.
"As we get closer to the election, there will be more and more of an agenda laid out for Canadians … What does Canada look like post-pandemic from a Conservative perspective? And what’s our plan to get Canada back on its feet and the economy back on track?"
"There will definitely be a sharper contrast with the Liberals being made over the next few months with an eye toward a June election," the source added. One sign an election is coming is Trudeau’s ministers making more announcements across the country, the source said.
But the Conservatives have made it clear they don’t want an election any time soon. Almost daily, they accuse the Liberals of plotting an election rather than taking care of Canadians during the pandemic — a message that has seemingly got them little traction, given the support for the billions the government is spending to help businesses and out-of-work Canadians.
And with the Bloc Québécois and New Democrats propping up the Liberals on major votes in the House of Commons, it doesn’t seem like Trudeau’s minority government is in any danger of falling.
Even still, there are good reasons an election in the coming months might worry O’Toole’s team. In an online survey posted Thursday, pollster Research Co. found that 37 per cent of decided voters would back the governing Liberals, while 28 per cent said they’d vote Conservative. The Liberals’ lead is larger than the survey’s 3.1 percentage point margin of error.
The survey suggested a more significant lead for the Liberals than other public polling, but it’s not in isolation. A Nanos poll conducted for Bloomberg suggested that 33 per cent of Canadians thought the Liberals were best suited to manage public finances, with 24 per cent favouring the Conservatives.
Fiscal responsibility is the area where Conservative parties typically excel. Falling behind the Liberals in that arena could signal trouble for O’Toole.
And the success, or failure, of the drive to vaccinate Canadians against COVID-19 could impact election timing. On Thursday, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin , Canada’s top vaccine co-ordinator, said that by the end of June there will be enough COVID-19 vaccines available for all eligible Canadians. It was the first change in the federal timeline since last fall, when Trudeau said the goal was to have vaccinations completed "by September."
In conversations with the Star over recent weeks, Conservative insiders conceded that while they’ve made gains in updating the party’s election infrastructure — including their data and polling game — they still lag behind the Liberals in modern campaign techniques.
A source close to O’Toole acknowledged that a significant piece of their election strategy is missing: concrete policy.
The party is gathering for a virtual policy convention, which kicked off Thursday afternoon. But the policy being debated — standard Conservative fare like reviewing the income tax regime, energy and natural resources policy, and reforming military procurement — is not politically-appealing enough to form the basis of a platform.
The source said that the party is expected to put more significant policy planks in front of voters in the weeks after the convention.
"One of the missing pieces is a thematic and ‘where does Erin stand’ policy. And that will be, in a general way, he will present that (at the convention)," said the source.
"(So) people will have something to take to voters and to align around and to take up. But this isn’t a silver bullet, it’s not a reset button … We just keep getting ready for what matters, and that’s the election."
The Conservatives’ virtual policy convention continues Friday and Saturday.
With files from Tonda MacCharles
Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier