Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicked off his campaign for re-election touting his credentials in flighting the pandemic and accusing the main opposition party of giving vaccine skeptics a pass.

After calling a vote for Sept. 20 that opposition parties claim is unnecessary, Trudeau justified the decision by saying the world has changed dramatically since the last election in 2019 and Canadians should decide who gets to “finish” the job of managing the COVID-19 crisis.

He chided the Conservative Party for not supporting his government’s decision to require vaccination for air and rail passengers, public servants and other categories of workers -- a policy announced just three days ago.

“We chose to make sure federal public servants and everyone boarding a train or a plane be vaccinated. Not everyone agrees. Not every political party agrees,” Trudeau said at a press conference in Ottawa. “We believe that the government’s most important responsibility is to keep Canadians safe and thriving.”

Trudeau’s focus on vaccine passports serves a dual purpose for the prime minister. It directs attention to what polls say is his biggest strength -- high marks on his handling of the pandemic -- and allows him an opportunity to paint the Conservatives as regressive, which is a tried-and-true strategy for the Liberals early in campaigns.

The Conservatives are the Liberals’ key opponent and are running second in polls, though the New Democratic Party has pockets of strong support and the Bloc Quebecois, a Quebec nationalist party, remains a political force in the French-speaking province.


After a slow start, Canada has had one of the most successful vaccine campaigns of any large country, with 63 per cent of the population now fully vaccinated. Polling also shows a majority of Canadians approve of placing restrictions on people who have yet to get inoculated.

Public opinion surveys show Trudeau’s Liberals, in power since 2015, with support in the mid-30 per cent range -- near the threshold they’ll need to win control of the 338-seat House of Commons. The party needs to add 15 additional seats to regain the majority it lost in the 2019 election.

During his first campaign press conference, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was asked several times about vaccine mandates and whether his party’s candidates would be vaccinated.

O’Toole -- who caught the virus last September -- made it clear that he supports vaccines and encourages everyone who’s eligible to get one, but the party’s position is not to make them mandatory.

Late Sunday, his campaign said a Conservative government would require unvaccinated passengers to present a negative test to board an airplane, train, ship or bus.

“We have to use all of the tools and not divide Canadians -- let’s work together to fight the fourth wave,” he said.