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Party leaders cast their ballots in federal election

Elections Canada has warned it could take up to four days to finish counting
An Elections Canada voter information card is shown on Tuesday, Aug 31, 2021. Canadians are at the polls for the federal election today, September 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Canada’s major party leaders are now among the millions of residents who’ve cast their ballots in the country’s first pandemic election, which culminates today as Canadians from coast to coast go to the polls.

Elections Canada says almost 6.8 million people voted early, most of them at advance polls over a week ago, and the rest through special ballots cast by mail or at Elections Canada offices.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and his wife Rebecca arrived Monday morning at a voting station in Bowmanville, Ont., in his riding of Durham, to cast their votes.

Rebecca O’Toole told a poll worker the couple wore the same blue outfits they sported at the launch of the campaign.

“I wonder who he’s voting for,” she joked as her husband marked his ballot, before the two dropped their votes into the ballot box.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau cast his ballot in his riding of Papineau, Que., with his three children at his side. His wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who already voted, waited by the entrance of the polling station.

Trudeau’s youngest son, Hadrien, 7, held his father’s hand and accompanied him to the voting booth before the two pushed the ballot into the box together.

Other leaders voted ahead of election day, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who cast his ballot in an advance poll in his riding in Burnaby, B.C., earlier this month.

Singh on Monday stopped by the party’s campaign office there, which was decorated in orange signs, pictures of their leader and yellow sunflowers, to thank volunteers with his pregnant wife, Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu, who has been a staple throughout his campaign.

Asked how they were holding up, the couple told volunteers they were optimistic and full of energy.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet also voted in advance, but spoke in Drummondville, Que., Monday morning to encourage his supporters to visit their polling stations.

“This is democracy. People send to the Parliament the people they believe will represent them the best,” Blanchet said Monday. “Whatever Canada wants as the ballot question, it’s their business. But I believe Quebec has a right to be different.”

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul voted by mail.

The majority of Canada’s more than 30 million eligible voters will mark their ballots today.

Elections Canada told The Canadian Press it had intermittent issues with a search tool on its website that lets voters know which polling station to go to based on their postal code. The agency urged electors to check their voting cards or call Elections Canada directly if they weren’t sure where to go.

Elections Canada had previously warned that the pandemic could lead to longer waits for voters compared to past elections.

Public health protocols involve keeping people at a distance and collecting extra information for contact tracing purposes, which could take extra time.

The polling stations themselves are also likely to be farther away, as many schools and landlords opted out of hosting crowds of voters during the fourth wave of the pandemic. That means fewer places to vote and potentially longer lines.

Elections Canada encouraged voters to wear masks but only required them in places where they were mandated by provincial rules. Proof-of-vaccination regulations do not apply at polling stations in any province where they currently exist.

Police in Edmonton said they responded to one disruption at a polling station where a man and woman refused to wear a mask inside a local public school as they tried to vote. Police said the man allegedly had a medical exemption and co-operated when asked to leave.

An Elections Canada spokesperson said some polls had seen isolated delays in getting set up, which created some longer waits, but nothing unusual compared to years past.

George Walker cast his ballot in Toronto Monday afternoon. He described the experience as “smooth,” and called the safety precautions taken at the polling station “wise.”

“But it took longer than it has in the past, mainly because of COVID,” Walker said, adding he didn’t mind the extra 15-minute wait.

Shannon Fernandez said voting on election day was “super easy,” “stress free” and “very straightforward.”

“I felt like it was very well organized,” Fernandez added. “No complaints at all.”

Polling stations are open for 12 hours, but the opening times vary by region, starting as early as 7 a.m. PST in British Columbia and as late as 9:30 a.m. EDT in Ontario and most of Quebec.

Most riding winners will be known by the end of the evening, but Elections Canada has warned it could take up to four days to finish counting all special ballots, meaning some close races may not have official winners for several days.

—The Canadian Press

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