By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is planning a snap election for Sept. 20 to seek voter approval for the government’s costly plans to combat COVID-19, four sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
Trudeau is set to make the announcement on Sunday, said the sources, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation. Trudeau aides have said for months that the ruling Liberals would push for a vote before the end of 2021, two years ahead of schedule.
Trudeau only has a minority government and relies on other parties to push through legislation. In recent months he has complained about what he calls opposition obstruction.
The Liberals racked up record levels of debt as they spent heavily to shield individuals and businesses from COVID-19. They plan to inject an extra C$100 billion ($80 billion) – between 3% and 4% of GDP – into the economy over the next three years.
Trudeau came to power in 2015 with a majority of the 338 seats in the House of Commons, but in 2019 he was reduced to a minority after old photos emerged of him wearing blackface.
“Circumstances have changed massively since 2019. We need to know whether Canadians support our plans for economic recovery,” said one of the sources.
Growth is set to rebound in the third quarter and Canada currently has one of the world’s best inoculation records.
Liberals acknowledge a call for an election now would be a gamble, given that recent opinion polls suggest the party is not yet guaranteed a majority and the risk posed by a fourth wave of COVID-19, which has already started.
Chief Public Health Officer Teresa Tam on Thursday reported a strong resurgence in cases of COVID-19. The number of people being treated in hospital has risen by 12% compared to last week, she told a briefing.
“After several months of declining severity trends, we are now seeing early signs of increase in severe illness,” she said. “Fortunately, the number of deaths remains low.”
The official opposition Conservatives, Trudeau’s main rivals, say his spending is excessive and will leave future generations hobbled by debt.
That said, a survey by Abacus on Thursday put the Liberals at 37% and the Conservatives at 28%.
The online poll of 3,000 people, conducted between Aug. 6 and 11, suggests Trudeau could well regain control of the House of Commons. The Liberals currently hold 155 of the 338 seats.
To formally launch the campaign Trudeau will need to visit Governor General Mary Simon, the personal representative of head of state Queen Elizabeth, to ask that Parliament be dissolved.
That visit is currently planned for Sunday morning, the sources said. Constitutional experts say Simon will agree to the request.
The Liberal party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
($1 = 1.2516 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by David LjunggrenEditing by Chizu Nomiyama, Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)