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OTTAWA -Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday called an early election for Sept. 20, saying he needed a new mandate to ensure voters approved of his Liberal government's plan to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trudeau, 49, is betting that high vaccination rates against the virus and a post-pandemic economic rebound will help him prolong and strengthen his grip on power. Newly-released data shows 71% of the country's eligible population is fully vaccinated.
The election comes at a "pivotal, consequential moment" for Canada, Trudeau said.
"We will be taking decisions that will last not just for the coming months but for the coming decades. Canadians deserve their say. That's exactly what we're going to give them," he told reporters.
Trudeau spoke after visiting Governor General Mary Simon, the representative of head of state Queen Elizabeth, to formally request the dissolution of Parliament.
Polls suggest the Liberals will win their third consecutive election but may not regain a majority in the 338-seat House of Commons. Trudeau currently has only a minority of seats, leaving him reliant on other parties to govern.
Nationally, Liberals would win 35% of the vote, compared with 30% for the main opposition Conservative Party and 19% for the left-leaning New Democrats, a Leger Marketing poll showed on Aug. 12.
The leader of the Conservatives, Erin O'Toole, criticized Trudeau for calling an election as the country faces a fourth wave of COVID-19, saying it undermines the efforts Canadians took to fight the pandemic.
"We shouldn't be risking that for political games or political gain," O'Toole told reporters.
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The Liberals spent heavily on subsidies to businesses and individuals to limit the damage from COVID-19, sending both the national debt and budget deficits to record highs.
The Conservatives and New Democrats have in recent days condemned the idea of an early election, saying there was no need for it and describing the call as a power grab.
"This is a really important moment," Trudeau said when asked repeatedly why he was calling an election during a pandemic.
He said some Conservative legislators had described as "tyrannical" the government's push to make vaccinations mandatory for federally regulated industries.
"The answer to tyranny is to have an election," he said.
The right-of-center Conservatives, the Liberals' biggest rivals, say spending will increase if Trudeau wins again, leaving generations of Canadians hobbled by debt.
With a parliamentary majority, Trudeau would have a free hand to follow through on his stated policy priorities of fighting climate change and supporting those who suffered most during the pandemic.