The Prime Minister’s Gambit and Its Relation to Inter-American Democracies

Carlos Gavaria/Reuters

By Samuel Kramer, 2L

On September 20, 2021, Canada held federal electionsabout two years ahead of schedule. These types of elections are called “snap elections” and occur when the Governor General dissolves parliament at the request of the Prime Minister. Opponents criticized Trudeau for calling the election in the middle of a global pandemic. Commentators suspect Prime Minister Trudeau called the snap election to “capitalize on his handling of the pandemic.” However, Trudeau remained steadfast, viewing the election as a function of democracy; he justified the election as allowing Canadians to decide how to end the pandemic. The electoral results show the Prime Minister’s gambit as having a marginal payout: Trudeau won a  third term but his party failed to secure a majority. 

From a political science perspective, the Covid-19 pandemic is not the only pandemic the world currently faces. We are also facing a pandemic among democracies. In recent decades, there has been a revival of populism and autocratic rhetoric. Covid-19 has only exacerbated the democratic decay. Freedom House, a non-partisan organization that seeks to promote global democracy, reported in 2020 that the Covid-19 pandemic has weakened democracy across the globe. Specifically, Freedom House identified 80 countries where democracy has deteriorated. 

This expedited democratic decay is due to governments’ responses to the Covid-19 crisis. Some factors identified include increased distrust in pandemic-related information, restrictions on the news media, election changes, police violence, and restrictions on ethnic and religious minorities. However, many believe democracy was eroding before the pandemic. The underlying theme of democratic decay is an attack on democratic normsfor example, rejecting facts or electoral outcomes and questioning the peaceful transition of power. 

Canada was not one of the eighty countries with a weakened democracy identified by the Freedom House Report. It is unlikely that Trudeau’s push for an early election will cause democratic decay. Election changes cited in the Freedom House report refer to changes that deviate from the country’s democratic norms. In Canada, snap elections are a part of their norm. Furthermore, while narratives of election fraud are circulating in Canada, these theories are peddled by the political elite. Trudeau’s biggest political challenger, Erin O’Toole, criticized holding a snap election during the pandemic. However, O’Toole did not transform his political rhetoric into an attack on Canada’s democracy. 

As we begin looking to life post-pandemic, experts raise the idea of a “new normal.” The new normal is a message of hope–that we will adjust our lives to be able to fight future problems. Within political science, we must also adjust to a new normal.

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