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Turnout, strategic voting likely to decide election as Grits, Tories tied: pollster

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OTTAWA — The 2021 federal election is likely going to be decided by turnout and strategic voting, Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque says as his firm’s latest poll results show the leading two parties in a dead heat.

The poll suggests the Liberals and Conservatives both have the support of 32 per cent of decided voters. The NDP are in third with 20 per cent.

But about one-fifth of those surveyed in the online poll conducted in collaboration with The Canadian Press said if the race was tight between the two front-runners, it could likely convince them to switch their vote to the Liberals. About one in 10 said they might switch to the Conservatives.

Almost one in three voters who said they plan to vote NDP also said a close race could convince them to vote Liberal instead, and a similar number of people who plan to vote for the People’s Party of Canada said they might switch to the Conservatives.

Bourque said the race is so tight in part because no one party or leader is generating energy or excitement.

“There is a little bit of a blah feeling, a little bit, right now,” he said.

The Conservatives had some momentum in the middle of the campaign, and a similar poll taken two weeks ago showed them with 34 per cent, the Liberals at 30 per cent and the NDP at 24 per cent.

The polls cannot be given a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

The latest poll was taken between Sept. 10 and Sept. 13, the four days following the two nationally televised leaders’ debates, where the biggest punch came not from any of the leaders but from a moderator’s question about what she called Quebec’s “discriminatory” secularism law.

In Quebec, the Liberals are holding steady with support of 34 per cent of decided voters polled by Leger, compared with 30 per cent for the Bloc Québécois, 19 per cent for the Conservatives and 10 per cent for the NDP.

Bourque said following the debates, the Bloc Québécois regained some traction but the Conservatives, who won 10 seats in Quebec two years ago, are falling below where they want to be to increase their seat count there.

“If the Tories are below 20 per cent in Quebec, they cannot mathematically gain new seats,” said Bourque.

In Ontario, where the critical “905” region that includes Toronto’s populous suburbs will help determine the final outcome, the Liberals hold a very slight lead over the Conservatives, at 36 and 34 per cent respectively. In British Columbia, the Conservatives enjoy a slight lead over the Liberals, with the NDP only a few points back.

Bourque said the poll numbers for the NDP in B.C. would likely allow them to hold their seats there but in Ontario, where they’re at 22 per cent in the Leger poll, things could start to get dicey.

“At 22, the potential for not making gains in Ontario and maybe losing some is very close,” said Bourque. “So I think that’s the one they need to watch right now.”

The poll suggests the momentum the Conservatives had in the early weeks of this campaign has sputtered, and the Liberals are starting to mount a slow comeback.

The biggest drag on the Liberals, according to Leger, is Justin Trudeau himself. One-third of those polled said his leadership was making them hesitant about voting Liberal, while a similar number said his ethics are giving them pause.

For Erin O’Toole, more than one in five voters polled cited social issues like abortion as the main reason they’re hesitant to vote Conservative, with almost as many also naming his policies on climate change and vaccines as a deciding factor.

Gun control was named by about one in six people as a reason they’re hesitant to vote Conservative, but in a world where strategic voting matters, O’Toole’s evolving position on gun control may make it harder to lure voters back from the People’s Party of Canada. More than half of decided PPC voters said gun control policy was making them hesitant about voting Conservative.

Bourque said in addition to strategic voting, turnout could be a factor. He said most often low turnout favours the incumbent, because when voters really want change, turnout tends to go up.

Two-thirds of voters either plan to or already have voted by mail or at an advanced poll.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2021.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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'Belfast' wins People's Choice prize at Toronto International Film Festival

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TORONTO — “Belfast” from writer-director Kenneth Branagh has won the People’s Choice prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The Northern Ireland-set family drama was announced as winner of the honour during the TIFF Tribute Awards broadcast on CTV, which marked the end of 10 days of pandemic-tailored in-person screenings and digital at-home viewing.

The prize chosen through online votes is often a predictor of Academy Award success.

Last year’s winner, the road drama “Nomadland,” won the best-picture Oscar. 

Other previous People’s Choice winners that have nabbed best picture include “Green Book,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”

This year’s People’s Choice race had a caveat, though: films that didn’t screen on the festival’s digital site were not eligible for the prize, including buzzy titles “Spencer” and “Dune.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2021.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

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‘I’m here but my mind is always there:’ Ontario woman returns home from Afghanistan

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Heartbreak and guilt are all Zakia Zarifi has been feeling since she returned to her home in Ontario from Afghanistan.

“I’m happy to see my family here, but it’s torture for me because I couldn’t bring my parents with me,” the real estate agent from Brampton said over the phone.

“It was the hardest goodbye ever, but deep down I have hope that I can bring them here.”

The single mother says she was beaten, shot at and barely dodged a bomb outside Kabul airport during the chaotic journey. All she thinks about now is helping the people left behind.

“(A) genocide … is happening right now in Afghanistan and no one is talking about it. That’s why I’m here but my mind is always there.”

Zarifi, 50, arrived this week to tears and warm hugs from her three grown children. They frantically worked to bring their mother home after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August. She had gone there to try to get her aging parents out of danger.

Before she got out herself, Zarifi was critical of Canada’s evacuation of its citizens from the region.

She told The Canadian Press while she was stuck in Afghanistan that she twice tried to escape before the U.S.-led military mission’s Aug. 31 deadline, but was beaten by Taliban members and pushed away from the airport’s gates.

She was angry Canadian officials told her and others to meet at dangerous locations, while other countries helped their citizens get to military planes using safer routes. Ten days after Canadian Forces left the region, and as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced criticism for mishandling the evacuation, Zarifi got another call from Global Affairs Canada, she said. This time the plan was better. “They told me to be at (Kabul) Serena Hotel and then, from there, the Qatari government was in charge of taking us to the airport. We had a flight with the Qatar airline (to Qatar).” By Tuesday, she was on a plane from Doha to Canada.

“The first flight that left Afghanistan (had) all different citizens from all over the world. On the second flight … there were, I believe, 10 Canadians.”

She said others on the flight home told horrifying stories about the Taliban knocking on their families’ doors and taking their men.

“They took their birth certificates, and took them to this place. They are all vanished,” she said.

“Someone even came to knock on my parents’ door. The guy who looks after them (said), ‘No one lives here,’  and they left.”

Zarifi said her parents are a target because they are from the northeastern province of Panjshir, the heart of military resistance in Afghanistan and where her father fought against Taliban rule.

While she waited for a flight, she and her family helped other Afghans, she said.

They gave away items in their home, distributed 120 blankets and provided food supplies to 500 families. Many Afghans they helped are among thousands who are religious and ethnic minorities who worry the Taliban’s return to power will lead to oppression or death.

Zarifi recalled a similar journey she made in 1987 during the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. She escaped to Pakistan from Kabul. Two years later, she moved to Canada.

“Afghans … a majority of them are refugees and they’ve all found a way to get out before and through significantly worse times,” said Zarifi’s daughter Marjan.

“When my mom first came to Canada, she had to walk two days, two nights to get to where she needed to go. They were being directly shot at. So she has done this twice.

“She keeps a lot of strength and says, ‘It’s gonna be OK,’ but every day we can’t think straight … Everyone just kind of moves on with life, but my mind is constantly with my family and what’s going on.”

Despite her frustration with the Canadian government, Zarifi said she’s thankful Trudeau did not forget her and other citizens.

“I just hope that the Liberal (government) do their best to bring people, because their life is in danger,” Zarifi said.

“When I moved here, I worked 20-hour days. I worked as a bookkeeper, did accounting, night shifts at Walmart. I worked hard. I made a living for myself.”

She said she prays that other Afghans will have the same chance at a new life. For her part, she plans to continue helping people in Afghanistan in whatever way she can.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17. 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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