TORONTO (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 21st September, 2021) Canada's Liberals have grabbed the early lead in the country's 44th national election as the first polls close, according to official results.
The Liberals currently lead in 24 ridings mostly across Atlantic Canada - a traditional Liberal stronghold - leading the Conservatives, who are ahead in 9 ridings, and the Bloc Quebecois which has an early lead in one of Quebec's electoral districts, with around one percent of the votes counted.
In the early stages, the Liberals are commanding 42.8 percent of support, followed by the Tories with 34.0 percent.
All 338 of Canada's House of Commons seats will be up for grabs with the winner of the election declared based on a contentious first-past-the-post system, where candidates with the highest number of votes win without any further runoff ballots. At least 170 seats are needed to form a majority government, although most projections currently point to a minority government.
The race comes down to sitting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative leader Erin O'Toole, with most projections showing the Liberals and Tories locked in a tight battle, although some pollsters are indicating that the incumbent Liberals are pulling away.
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Trudeau, the country's 23rd prime minister, was accompanied by his three children as he cast his ballot in his home riding of Papineau in Montreal, Quebec.
Much of the parties' success depends on their ability to "get out the vote," or GOTV, which is a push to get potential voters - on party mailing lists and other internal data - to the polls on election day, who otherwise would stay home for a variety of reasons.
A record 5.78 million Canadians cast early ballots, representing an 18.46% increase in advance voting when compared to 2019, Elections Canada said. Additionally, the commission has issued 1,267,014 special ballots of which 951,039 have been mailed back, meaning that more than a quarter of approximately 28 million voters have already cast their ballot.
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Throughout the election Trudeau was dogged by questions about the necessity of a Federal election while the country faces a range of domestic and international challenges, including the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the messy evacuation from Afghanistan.
Kamlesh's sentiment was echoed by other voters Sputnik spoke with, including Carol Li and Samira Munawar.
As the country labors through another wave of the pandemic, most voters identified the COVID-19 response as their top issue.
Kamlesh said his top priorities include ensuring that all Canadians are vaccinated - vaccination and vaccination mandates became a hotly contested wedge issue in a testy campaign - and maintaining support for businesses devastated by the pandemic.
"Being historically working for the healthcare system... I just wanted to ensure that my vote counted for the platform I believe in that would support healthcare," Li said.
In a campaign where Canadians were increasingly speaking out "against" policies, issues, parties and candidates as opposed to advocating for positive change, those Sputnik spoke with said they were voting "for" something.
"For something," Li said, explaining that resource allocation for the healthcare system remains her top priority.
While voters were split on the need for change or maintaining the status quo, all stressed the need for the country to unite after a campaign where emotions boiled over on several occasions, including unruly protests at Trudeau's campaign stops.
"I think people should make peace," Munawar said.
"We don't want to be like our neighbors down south," Kamlesh added, emphasizing the need for Canada's political parties to work together when the next government forms. Li said bringing the country together comes down to "reinforcing what (Canadians') common ground is."