Trudeau heir leads the pack as Canada heads to the polls

Geoff Robins, AFP | Justin Trudeau, 43, is the son of legendary Liberal leader Pierre Trudeau

Canadian voters cast their ballots Monday to decide whether to extend Conservative leader Stephen Harper's near-decade in power or return Canada to its more liberal roots by putting the Trudeau family back in charge.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is seeking a rare fourth term, is trailing Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, the son of late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, in the polls.

Pierre Trudeau led Canada for almost all of a 16-year stretch from 1968-84 and is a storied name in Canadian history. He is responsible for the country's version of the bill of rights and its open door policy to immigration.

His youthful and well-coiffed son has put a fresh face on a party tarnished by a string of corruption scandals, while also stirring memories of the “Trudeaumania” that once defined Canadian politics.

"We have a chance to bring real change to Canada and bring an end to the Harper decade," Justin Trudeau said in Harper's adopted home province of Alberta, traditionally a Conservative stronghold.

Trudeau, 43, ran an optimistic campaign and appears to have overcome relentless attack ads. In the final days of the campaign he visited districts in Western Canada where the Liberals traditionally haven't won but now have a chance to win.

In contrast, 56-year-old Harper was seen as running a divisive campaign that played on fears of the Muslim face veil. He mostly visited districts he won in the 2011 election in an attempt to hang onto them.

On Saturday he attended a Toronto rally organized in part by the city’s crack-smoking former mayor, Rob Ford, in what some observers described as a desperate move.

After three successive Conservative governments, Harper is now up against a strong desire for change and his personal image is at an all-time low – highlighted by Tory television spots that open with "Stephen Harper may not be perfect..."

Harper has said he will step down as Conservative leader if his party loses.

‘Hope beats fear’

The Liberals lead the Conservatives by almost 9 percentage points. According to the CTV/Globe and Mail/Nanos Nightly Tracking Poll, the Liberals are at 39.1 percent, followed by the Conservatives at 30.5 percent. The New Democrats are at 19.7 percent.

Public opinion, however, has shifted wildly – up to 12 percentage points – during the campaign. And many of Canada's 26.4 million registered voters remain undecided.

A minority government in the 338-seat Parliament appears likely no matter which party wins the most seats. That would mean the winning party would have a shaky hold on power and need to rely on another party to pass legislation.

If the Liberals win the most seats, they're expected to rely on the New Democrats for support on a bill-by-bill basis. If Harper’s Conservatives win the most seats, the Liberals and New Democrats say they'll defeat them in a vote in Parliament, raising the possibility of a coalition government or arrangement.

"It's hard for me to see a path for his survival now," said Tom Flanagan, Harper's former campaign manager. "When you play out all the scenarios they all seem to end with a defeat on election night or a very tenuous victory that would not allow Harper to survive very long."

If he wins, Trudeau would become the second youngest prime minister in Canada's history, despite a thin resume that includes a career in teaching.

David Axelrod, who helped mastermind Barack Obama's 2008 campaign and offered advice to Trudeau's team, tweeted congratulations to Trudeau's top advisers for running a great campaign and said "Hope beats fear."

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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