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Close race expected in Canada elections

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Polling stations have opened in Canada’s parliamentary elections.

The first of more than 25 million Canadians were able to cast their votes in Newfoundland, in the east of the huge country early on Monday (local time).

Across the country, a close race is shaping up between Liberal incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Conservative challenger Erin O’Toole.

The latest polls put the Liberals ahead.

However, an absolute majority is likely to be rather difficult to achieve and a majority for the Conservatives also seems unlikely.

First results are expected in early on Tuesday but, as there are more postal voters than usual, meaningful results could be delayed.

Mr Trudeau has governed the world’s second-largest country in terms of area since 2015 but for the past two years he has headed a minority government.

The 49-year-old had called the early vote a few weeks ago with the hope of achieving an absolute majority although his minority government was stable.

Despite the close polls, the Liberals again seem to have better chances, which is also due to the electoral system: Mandates in the 338 constituencies are distributed according to the principle of absolute majority.

This traditionally favours the Liberals.

Only a few dozen contested districts are decisive.

In recent days, Mr Trudeau, whose government racked up record debt fighting COVID-19, focused on the need for Canadians to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

He backs vaccine mandates while Conservative leader Mr O’Toole, 48, opposes them and prefers a combination of voluntary vaccinations and rapid testing to stop the spread of the virus.

Mr Trudeau, a charismatic progressive and son of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, swept to power in 2015.

But the Liberals were reduced to a minority in 2019 after Mr Trudeau was damaged by allegations of intervening in a criminal case involving a corporation in Quebec and by revelations that he had worn blackface as a younger man.

Echoes of that campaign reverberated on Sunday when a new photograph of Mr Trudeau wearing dark makeup at the same 2001 party emerged.

A Liberal campaign official said the latest photo was a desperate attempt to smear Mr Trudeau on the eve of the vote.

-AAP