Ottawa: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Conservative rival Andrew Scheer slugged it out Sunday on the last day of a rancorous election campaign.
With Canadians going to the polls on Monday, the Liberals and Tories went into the home stretch in a dead heat, each with about 31-32 percent support after 40 days of mudslinging. Pollsters are predicting a minority government will result -- either Liberal or Conservative -- as the smaller New Democratic Party (NDP), Green Party and Bloc Quebecois continued to chip away at the frontrunners' lead.
Their voices hoarse, Trudeau and Scheer made last desperate pitches to undecided voters over the weekend in key battlegrounds in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec provinces. "We need a strong progressive government that will unite Canadians and fight climate change, not a progressive opposition," Trudeau told a rally in a suburb of Vancouver after whistle-stops in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta. "We need to unite as citizens. We need to unite as a planet," he said.
Scheer, also criss-crossing the country over the weekend, accused the Liberals of being spendthrift, saying late Saturday: "Justin Trudeau has made it clear he will pay any price to stay in power and he will use your money to do it." The campaign, which Trudeau has described as the nastiest in Canadian history, has been "a desert from a public policy point of view," according to pollster Nik Nanos of Nanos Research.
Trudeau has faced an unexpected surge from the NDP and Greens on the left, and the separatist Bloc Quebecois back from the dead and riding a new Quebec nationalist wave, as he sought to overcome disenchantment with his leadership after four years in power. For his part, Scheer has struggled to convince voters to look past his bland minivan-driving dad persona and the party's minimalist platform to give the rookie leader a chance to govern.
Attack ads skirting the truth accused the Liberals of planning to raise taxes and legalize hard drugs, and the Tories of allowing assault rifles on the streets and restricting abortion services. As the election got nearer, Liberals urged their supporters to vote strategically to prevent a rollback of Trudeau's progressive policies by the Tories.
Former US president Barack Obama chimed in with an endorsement of Trudeau, calling him an "effective leader who takes on big issues like climate change." "The world needs his progressive leadership now," Obama said in a tweet. Plagued by a blackface scandal and accused of ethics lapses in the handling of the bribery prosecution of an engineering giant, Trudeau has seen his star dim and his personal popularity slip over the past year.
At a stop Friday night in Vaughan, Ontario, he invoked the memory of his father, late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who was a driving force behind the establishment of modern Canada. "My father always used to tell me that when you're paddling across a big lake and the clouds get darker and the wind comes up and the waves start to show white caps and break a little more, there really is only one thing to do: sing louder and paddle harder," he said. "And that's what we do as Liberals."
At another recent rally, Trudeau was forced to take the unprecedented step of wearing a flak jacket on stage amid heavy security due to an unspecified threat. Scheer, meanwhile, stepped up efforts to instill fears that the Liberals and New Democrats would form an alliance that he said would be the "worst possible outcome" for Canada. The only formal coalition in Canada's parliament was in 1917 during the First World War. Throughout the campaign Scheer faced criticism for padding his resume and over his personal opposition to abortion and gay marriage.
Repeatedly he has had to calm supporters chanting "Lock him up!" against Trudeau, echoing the line US President Donald Trump supporters used against Hillary Clinton in 2016. On Saturday, Scheer sidestepped accusations that the Tories worked to smear his former rival for the party's leadership, Maxime Bernier, who went on to start his own People's Party.
The People's Party has situated itself to the right of the Conservatives and could draw votes away from the Tories. The Globe and Mail reported that a communications firm was tasked with developing a social media campaign portraying members of the People's Party of Canada as racist.
Following the report, Bernier protested with Elections Canada and accused Scheer of being "prepared to steal the election with lies and manipulation," adding that the Conservative leader "did not deserve Canadians's trust."