OTTAWA – It has dominated our lives for the past 17 months. But will the COVID-19 pandemic, and the federal government’s response, determine how Canadians vote?

Now that the country has plunged into an early election campaign, federal parties are eager to focus on their competing visions of how Canada can recover from the pandemic.

Those visions are largely variations on one theme: the need to strategically invest federal funds to help the nation’s economy emerge from the crisis and hopefully prosper in the post-pandemic world. The differences will be in the details: what to invest in, how much to invest, and what takes priority.

But given the magnitude of the global crisis, ruling liberals ‘management of the pandemic will almost certainly play a role in voters’ decisions. The Sept. 20 election may not be a referendum on Justin Trudeau’s leadership during the crisis, but it will likely be a major factor.

With the campaign taking place in the context of a fourth wave, COVID-19 remains a major concern on the minds of voters. More than a quarter (26 percent) of those surveyed in new survey data released last week by Angus Reid listed COVID-19 as a concern, behind health care and climate change (36 percent each) and the affordability of housing and the economy (26 percent). one hundred each).

“Liberals continue to be viewed as a party and a government that has done a better than worse job of managing the pandemic, and to that end I think it is quite remarkable that 45 percent of the people who … express concern Staff around the pandemic also say they are inclined to vote liberals. That’s a huge amount, ”Angus Reid President Shachi Kurl said in an interview.

“The fourth wave, the Delta variant, the concerns about that are very, very real.”

That same poll found that Canadians’ approval of the management of the Ottawa pandemic has reached the highest point since November 2020, with 55 percent saying the Liberal government has done a “good job” in handling COVID-19.

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According to Angus Reid’s tracking, the government’s approval ratings in handling the pandemic have risen steadily since April, when the country’s vaccine supply began to surge.

That blunted the main line of attack by opposition conservatives against the Trudeau government: that it was lagging behind the developed world in obtaining vaccines and carrying them on the shoulders of Canadians. As of last week, Canada was tied for first in the world with the highest percentage of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Our World in Data.

But Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has said for months that the question at the polls will not be liberals’ handling of the pandemic, but who Canadians trust to rebuild the country’s economy after the pandemic.

O’Toole has outlined some steps a conservative government would take to address the problems that arose in the crisis: improving Canada’s vaccine research capacity, producing crucial supplies such as personal protective equipment in the country, and developing a national tracking system. of contacts. He has also pledged to boost internet service for rural Canadians, $ 250 million over two years for a job training support fund, and a $ 5 billion cash injection to start a new research and development agency.

Canadians already got a preview of the Liberals’ post-pandemic vision in April, when Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland unveiled the government’s budget for 2021. In addition to the $ 350 billion Liberals spent during the immediate emergency , Freeland’s budget allocated $ 101 billion in new spending over the next several years in an attempt to fuel a strong economic recovery from the crisis.

That new spending includes $ 30 billion over five years to establish a national child care system of $ 10 a day by 2026, and Liberals have spent the intervening months signing contracts with provincial governments to make it happen.

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The New Democrats build on Canadians’ renewed appreciation for government support by promising to expand public health care to include medicine, mental health care, and dental care. The NDP also promises a basic income to live on, a concept Canadians might feel more comfortable with following the Liberals’ pandemic income support program, which the NDP lobbied to expand. He plans to pay for the new programs by raising taxes on big companies and the “super” rich. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh also announced that his party would create “more than a million good jobs” by modernizing buildings, constructing more renewable energy sources, public transportation and affordable housing units, and creating more $ 10 per day child care programs nationwide.

“I think it will be part of the campaign, the NDP trying to show that it mattered and was able to change the outcome because they were in Parliament,” said David Coletto of Abacus Data.

“To some extent, recovery from the pandemic can influence how the debate progresses. But my feeling is that (the election) will not be hindsight, it will be much more about the future. The pandemic, as a problem, will only come into play if it worsens during this campaign.

“And then the debate centers on who you trust to help us get through this last, hopefully wave. And again, I think the liberals are well positioned there. ”

With files from Alex Ballingall and Stephanie Levitz

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