OTTAWA Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces his first real test with voters on Monday, with five by-elections across the country shaping up as a barometer for the strength of his Liberals since being elected to a shock majority in 2015.
The regional votes to elect two members of parliament in Calgary and one member each in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal are considered safe seats - three for Trudeau's Liberals and two for the opposition Conservatives. An upset in any of the five polls will be seen as significant ahead of the 2019 general election when Trudeau and members of the House of Commons face the electorate.
Pollster Nik Nanos said he expects all of the incumbent parties to lose some ground in the by-elections, as each vote is replacing a well-known incumbent, including former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Calgary.
"It's quite unusual that every single riding had a very strong incumbent with a very strong personal following. I would expect, if I was to make a prediction, is that the margins for everyone will go down," Nanos said.
"We should be focusing on for those compressed margins - where do those voters go? That's probably going to be more interesting than anything else."
A December poll showed Trudeau's approval rating remained high but was dropping amid rising dissatisfaction with the economy, and voter anger over a broken promise to reform the electoral process could eat into the government's popularity.
In addition, nearly half of Canadians want to deport people who are illegally crossing into Canada from the United States, and a similar number disapprove of how Trudeau is handling the influx, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released in March.
Still, both the opposition parties, the right-of-centre Conservatives and left-leaning New Democrats, are led by interim leaders and are undergoing leadership elections, leaving Trudeau with little competition on the political stage.
(Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)