Federal parties in for long night as voting heads into final hours

OTTAWA — Federal parties could be in for a long and tense night as the clock ticks toward the first polls closing in Newfoundland and Labrador in a few hours before the rest of the country begins to follow suit.

Canadians started heading to the polls on Monday morning to cast their ballots following a 40-day election campaign that featured countless promises, numerous personal attacks and enduring uncertainty right up to the finish line.

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The Liberals under Justin Trudeau and Conservatives under Andrew Scheer started the election largely neck-and-neck in opinion polls and, despite their best efforts, neither leader seems to have been able to jump ahead.

While voting was reportedly going smoothly across much of the country, Elections Canada confirmed problems with some polling stations that had caused delays in their being opened. Officials said these were isolated incidents.

There were also concerns about some voters having reportedly received robocalls in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec with incorrect or misleading information about when and where they could cast their ballots. Elections Canada did not immediately confirm these reports.

The Liberals, meanwhile, were flagging concerns about some candidates from the other parties continuing to run advertisements on Facebook on Monday despite a blackout on paid social-media or search-engine ads on election day.

Elections Canada "doesn't evaluate incidents in real time," said spokeswoman Natasha Gauthier, adding complaints about potential ads running during the blackout period should go to the Office of Commissioner of Canada Elections, whose mandate is to investigate and enforce the rules.

"As with any general election, we have been receiving complaints about election advertising as well as advertising during the blackout period," Myriam Crousette, spokeswoman for the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, said in an email.

"However, the Office of the Commissioner does not confirm or deny whether we are in the process of conducting an investigation. This is in keeping with the confidentiality provisions of the Canada Elections Act."

The Conservatives, NDP and Greens did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trudeau voted in his Montreal riding of Papineau on Monday morning after flying back the night before from British Columbia, where he spent the final day of the campaign and which could prove critical to deciding which party gets to form government.

He was joined by his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and their three children.

The Liberal leader, who came to power in 2015 on an inspirational promise of governing differently, suffered an uneven election campaign this time around thanks in part to revelations he wore racist makeup before entering politics.

The SNC-Lavalin affair also continued to dog Trudeau, as did anger among some progressives over his failure to reform the electoral system and his government's decision to buy the Trans Mountain oil pipeline.

Scheer was scheduled to cast his ballot later in the day in Regina after also spending Sunday in Vancouver and B.C.'s Lower Mainland in the hopes of securing enough seats to knock off the incumbent Liberals.

Like Trudeau, the Conservative leader faced challenges on the campaign trail, where he was seen as underperforming in the first French-language debate and faced pointed questions about his position on abortion and climate change.

The other leaders also sought to portray a Tory government as one that would cut services for Canadians after Scheer promised to balance the budget in five years, and he faced questions about his U.S. citizenship and claims to have been an insurance broker.

Scheer spoke briefly Monday to supporters in Wascana, Sask., where the Conservatives are hoping to unseat Ralph Goodale, the longtime Liberal MP and cabinet minister who has been the Liberals only representative in the province for years.

"Ralph Goodale has sold out Saskatchewan time and time again," Scheer said before going door to door to encourage voters to get to the polls.

"He voted against major pipeline projects that would get Saskatchewan resources to other markets. He voted in favour of the carbon tax. ... Today's the day we are all going to send Ralph Goodale a message: If he won't vote for Saskatchewan, we won't vote for him."

Ultimately, once all the ballots are cast and counted, the balance of power could reside with one of the other main parties should neither the Liberals nor Conservatives secure enough seats to win a majority government.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who will spend the night in his B.C. riding of Burnaby South after voting in last weekend's advance polls, started the race facing questions about his leadership due to lacklustre fundraising, a shortage of candidates and other organizational challenges.

More than a month later, however, Singh is seen to have run a surprisingly strong campaign that has attracted many progressive voters, resulting in a bump in the NDP's polling numbers, even though the party's chances in Quebec remain uncertain.

The NDP leader was cheered by volunteers and supporters as he visited a campaign office in Burnaby, where he thanked those who helped over the past month and a half before reflecting on the party's campaign.

"The reason why I think we got a lot of love," he said, "a reason why a lot of people have been saying this is an exciting campaign, is because it's been about people. We've been fighting for people every single day of this campaign."

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has overseen a surge in support in la belle province after his party was largely left for dead after abysmal results in 2011 and 2015 followed by years of infighting.

While many Quebecers say sovereignty is not a priority, Blanchet has been able to tap into the same nationalist sentiment that propelled the centre-right Coalition Avenir Quebec to power at the provincial level.

That resurgence has come at the expense of the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP, all of which entered the campaign hoping to win over Quebecers, who have historically played a major role in deciding the makeup of the government in Ottawa.

Meanwhile, Green Leader Elizabeth May, who voted in her riding on Vancouver Island on Monday, is hoping her party can capitalize on its recent success in provincial votes and translate that to more seats in the House of Commons.

May, who voted at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Sidney, B.C., said she spent the morning answering messages of support from children who told her they've been urging their parents and grandparents to vote Green.

"It leaves you feeling very inspired and uplifted for a solid Green turnout today," she said.

Maxime Bernier, who has spent much of the campaign trying to protect his own seat in Beauce, Que., will find out whether his upstart People's Party of Canada is a movement or a footnote.

"I hope that the participation rate will be very high all across the country ... and we'll see what will happen in a couple of hours from now," he said before casting his ballot.

The first polls will close around 7 p.m. ET in Newfoundland and Labrador, with the last closing in B.C. at 10 p.m.

Elections Canada says roughly 27.4 million people are eligible to vote, and while most voters will cast their ballots today, around 4.7 million took advantage of advance polling last weekend. That marked a 29 per cent increase over 2015.

Voter turnout in the last election stood at 68.5 per cent, which was the highest since 1993.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2019.

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