Vote counting was under way in Canada late on Monday in a tight election seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
His Liberal Party and Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives were neck-and-neck according to polls in the leadup to the election.
Because of the tight race and the fact that ballots are counted by hand, the results will likely be decided late Monday night or in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
For the most part, voting went smoothly across the country. Elections Canada did, however, receive reports of robocalls in eastern Canada directing people to vote on Tuesday, the day after election day.
Trudeau cast his ballot in his riding of Papineau in Montreal with his family when polls opened Monday morning. Trudeau is hoping for a second term, but has faced several recent scandals – from ethics violations to revelations he wore blackface – that could undermine his support.
His government’s decision to buy the Trans Mountain oil pipeline in western Canada for 4.5 billion Canadian dollars (US$3.45bn) has proven unpopular with voters on the left, while those on the right are not happy with his carbon-pricing plan.
Conservative leader Scheer cast his ballot Monday afternoon in his Regina riding, flanked by his wife and three kids.
Scheer has promised to cancel the carbon price for individuals, and cut income tax. But Scheer, too, has faced controversy, including reports that his party hired a firm to use Twitter to “seek and destroy” his competitor, the People’s Party of Canada, and paint them as racist. While Scheer claimed his campaign was transparent, he refused to say if his party hired the firm.
Over the weekend, the Liberals and Conservatives made pitches to Canadians to “vote strategically” to keep the other from winning. In Canada’s multiparty system, voters sometimes vote against the party they least like, instead of voting for the party they most agree with.
Polling projections of a minority government for either the Conservatives or Liberals can be blamed in part on the uptick in support for the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Quebecois.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh voted in his riding of Burnaby South with his wife. Polls showed a surge of support for Singh in the last week, especially among young, left-leaning voters. He campaigned on free dental care, more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets than the Liberals, and cancelling the pipeline Trudeau bought. He has also been popular on social media.
In Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois has also seen a rise in support under new leader Yves-Francois Blanchet. The separatist party was haemorrhaging support after its downfall in 2008, but is expected to pick up seats from the NDP in Quebec this election.
Canada’s parliament has 338 seats, and whoever wins a majority of seats – 170 or more – automatically forms government and can easily pass legislation.
If polling data proves correct and no party wins a majority on Monday night, the NDP or the Bloc could hold the balance of power, and parties would have to work together to form a government.