OTTAWA — In the same hour the Ontario government announced tightened restrictions to clamp down on a record-breaking spurt of COVID-19 cases, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signalled Friday that two impending Toronto byelections will go ahead.
Canada’s democratic institutions are strong, Trudeau said, adding it’s reassuring for people to see their democracies continue to function throughout the pandemic.
Two federal byelections were called in Toronto following the resignations of former Liberal MP Michael Levitt in York Centre and former finance minister Bill Morneau in Toronto Centre. They are scheduled to take place Oct. 26.
“We made the determination that moving forward quickly on these byelections was probably the safest thing to do,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. “We see that holding a byelection later in the winter, in January or February, is extremely uncertain in terms of what the situation might be.”
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Under federal elections law, a byelection must be called in a riding within six months after that seat becomes officially vacant.
Trudeau’s reassertion that the two byelections will continue as planned come as new Green Party Leader Annamie Paul called on the prime minister to postpone the contests.
Paul does not have a seat in the House of Commons and is a candidate in the Toronto Centre byelection, a Liberal stronghold. She faces competition against Liberal candidate Marci Ien, a former CTV broadcast journalist.
“I’m sure that any candidate running in either one of those byelections feels the same way I do, that these are just not the conditions under which you can have a free, fair and, above all, safe election,” she told The Canadian Press.
Paul’s request came as Ontario announced its highest daily case count since the start of the pandemic.
In response to the surge in cases, the province is adopting “modified Stage 2 restrictions” for the next 28 days in Ottawa, Peel Region and Toronto — areas where there have been outbreaks of COVID-19 infection.
Public officials hope the restrictions, including closing gyms, casinos, movie theatres, and indoor dining at establishments that provide food and drink, will minimize community spread and keep labs and hospitals from being overwhelmed.
Trudeau says country at a ‘tipping point’
Elections Canada said Friday that it has sent voting guidelines to households in York Centre and Toronto Centre.
“Electors who are self-isolating, experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case are strongly encouraged to apply to vote by mail,” the independent agency said in a statement.
The prime minister pointed to provincial elections in New Brunswick and British Columbia as examples of democracy in action in spite of a public health pandemic.
He said the residents in York Centre and Toronto Centre deserve to have representation in the House in these uncertain times.
After acknowledging earlier that Canada is at a “tipping point,” given the upward trajectory of outbreaks in Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta, the prime minister offered a reminder that he doesn’t hold a crystal ball.
“Who knows what the next months could bring, we certainly hope things get better,” he said. “But they might not.”