Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have retained enough seats to govern with a strong minority in the House of Commons as the result of a robust showing in Ontario, bringing an end to an acrimonious campaign and ushering in the uncertainty of a divided Parliament and a country split along regional lines.
The Liberals face significant challenges as they enter their second mandate: They won the most seats in the House, but lost the popular vote to the Conservatives. About 6.2-million Canadian voters – or 34.4 per cent – chose Mr. Scheer’s party over the 5.9-million voters – or 33.1 –cent – who opted for Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals.
They were shut out in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The minority situation will force the Liberal Prime Minister, who swept to power in 2015 as a champion of progressive values but became tainted by ethical scandals and broken promises, to negotiate political alliances with the NDP or the Bloc Québécois to maintain power. Mr. Trudeau will face a resurgent Bloc, which was elected in 32 of Quebec’s 78 seats late Monday, and the Conservatives holding a tight grip in the Prairies, where anger mounted at the Liberals for failing to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built in their first four years in government and introducing new legislation that changed the rules for environmental reviews.
The leaders broke with tradition after the results came in, with none of them waiting for the previous one to finish speaking before taking the stage.
While Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer waited for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to finish a substantial part of his speech, Mr. Trudeau began in Montreal within minutes of Mr. Scheer taking to the podium in Regina.
The Liberal Leader framed his minority election as a “clear mandate,” despite Conservatives winning the popular vote.
“From coast to coast to coast, tonight Canadians rejected fear and negativity. They rejected cuts and austerity and they voted in favour of a progressive agenda and strong action on climate change.”
The minority win diminishes Mr. Trudeau’s authority, but is more of a setback for Mr. Scheer. It’s rare for an incumbent government to be ousted after one mandate, but the Tories set expectations high for their rookie leader. Ultimately, he was unable to capitalize on Liberal troubles in the face of relentless attacks as a leader out of sync on the environment and social issues.
One of the biggest upsets of the night was veteran Liberal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale losing his Regina-Wascana riding.
Deputy Conservative Leader Lisa Raitt was unseated in the Ontario riding of Milton, and People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier lost his Quebec seat.
Other than Mr. Bernier, all of the party leaders won their ridings.
Mr. Scheer acknowledged it was not the result he had hoped for but he nonetheless claimed victory for reducing the Liberals to a minority while winning the popular vote.
“What we do know is that after the 2015 election, when Justin Trudeau looked unstoppable, all the pundits and experts said it was the beginning of another Trudeau dynasty,” Mr. Scheer said while standing alongside his family at his party’s election-night event at Evraz Place in Regina.
“Tonight, Conservatives have put Justin Trudeau on notice. And Mr. Trudeau, when your government falls, Conservatives will be ready and we will win.”
Jody Wilson-Raybould, who left the Liberal cabinet over the SNC-Lavalin affair, won her Vancouver-area riding, where she ran as an Independent. Jane Philpott, who also resigned from Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet over the SNC-Lavalin affair, ran as an Independent in Ontario, but lost to her Liberal challenger.
At the beginning of the campaign, Mr. Singh had faced the prospect his NDP would lose official party status. They lost about half their seats but kept a foothold in Parliament. The New Democrats would be the natural ally for the Liberals in a minority government. Mr. Singh suggested during the campaign he could work with Mr. Trudeau.
The vote put an end to a 40-day campaign that was dominated more by character assassination than significant policy debates on issues such as pharmacare, tax cuts and the pros and cons of a carbon tax.
To form a majority a party must win 170 of the House of Commons’ 338 seats.
The Liberals put in a solid showing in the Ontario battleground, where Conservatives worried that Premier Doug Ford was dragging down Tory support. With 121 seats up for grabs, the Liberals were leading or elected in 79 seats to 36 for the Conservatives and six for the NDP. In 2015, the Liberals won 80 seats followed by 33 for the Conservatives, and eight for the NDP.
The Liberals had expected to hold onto their fortress in the Greater Toronto area, and the Conservatives under Mr. Scheer were unable to make inroads. Similarly the NDP was not able to break into Toronto’s 416 area code after being swept out of Canada’s most populous city in the 2015 election.
In Quebec, the Bloc, led by Yves-François Blanchet, denied the Liberals the seats they needed to form a majority government.
At the outset of the campaign in September, the Liberals had hoped to increase their base in Quebec to offset losses elsewhere. In 2015, the Liberals won 40 seats, with the NDP picking up 16, the Conservatives winning 12 seats and the Bloc Québécois reduced to just 10 seats.
In Monday’s vote, the Liberals were leading or elected in 35 seats. The Bloc is leading or elected in 32 seats, enough to make it the third-largest caucus in the House of Commons. The Conservatives are leading or elected in 10 Quebec ridings, while the NDP has been reduced to just one seat in the province.
With the New Democrats struggling with organization, fundraising and popular support in 2019, the Liberals and the Conservatives were counting on picking up seats there. But the rise of the Bloc in the last six weeks changed the calculation.
The Atlantic provinces set the tone for the night with the Conservatives winning four seats in the Liberal stronghold, a region where the Trudeau-led party won all 32 seats in 2015. The NDP picked up one seat in Newfoundland where Jack Harris won back the riding of St. John’s East.
The Green Party’s Jenica Atwin picked up a seat in Fredericton, a seat the Greens hold provincially. Former Harper MPs Rob Moore and John Williamson also won back their New Brunswick ridings.
In Manitoba, the Liberals held on to four of their seven seats. The Conservatives won seven seats and the NDP three.
The Conservatives swept Saskatchewan, and in Alberta, the Tories swept all but one Edmonton seat, which the NDP held.
The Conservatives received 64.3 per cent of the popular vote in Saskatchewan, followed by 19.5 per cent for the NDP and 11.6 per cent for the Liberals. In Alberta, the Conservatives received 69.2 per cent of the vote, followed by the Liberals at 13.7 per cent and the NDP at 11.5 per cent.
In B.C., the Conservatives are leading or elected in 17 ridings, the NDP in 11, the Liberals in 11, and the Greens in two.
Voter turnout was listed at 65.95 per cent as of Tuesday morning, which would be a decline from the 68.3 per cent of eligible voters who cast a ballot in 2015. However Elections Canada notes that its 2019 figures do not include voters who registered on election day.
The Liberals, Conservatives and NDP focused the lion’s share of their policy proposals in the campaign on affordability issues, with the parties trying to outdo one another on programs, tax cuts and targeted help for new parents, seniors and post-secondary students in particular.
The Conservatives pitched an across-the-board income tax cut funded by spending cuts elsewhere, while the Liberals did away with promising to balance the budget and offered up new programs as well as tax relief for low– and middle-income earners. Instead of pitching tax cuts, the NDP proposed a historic expansion of medicare with the introduction of universal pharmacare and dental care.
Other than the Conservatives’ focus on fiscal constraint, the area where the parties showed the clearest differences was on climate change policy. The Conservatives promised to tear up the Liberal climate plan and repeal the federal carbon tax as their first order of business if they formed government, while the other parties promised more ambitious targets.
Less than a year ago, Mr. Trudeau had been expected to coast to a second majority government.
But the SNC-Lavalin affair lifted a curtain on his governing style, and the Liberals never fully recovered from two months of wall-to-wall coverage that ended with two of Mr. Trudeau’s star recruits from the 2015 campaign being booted from the Liberal caucus, the resignation of a close adviser and the exit of Canada’s top civil servant. It also resulted in a second finding that Mr. Trudeau had breached ethics laws.
The Liberal Leader regained his footing slightly over the summer, but the first week of the campaign put Mr. Trudeau on his heels when it was revealed that his government blocked the RCMP’s request for documents to determine whether there was obstruction justice in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
As the campaign entered its second week, photos surfaced of Mr. Trudeau wearing blackface. He admitted he had done so an unknown number of times, from his youth in the 1980s to 2001, when he was a teacher at a Vancouver private school. The admission rocked his campaign, hurting morale, and cut to the core of Mr. Trudeau’s brand as a prime minister who championed inclusion and embraced diversity.
The scandal knocked the Liberals to second place in the polls, and gave confidence to the Tories heading into the third week.
Mr. Scheer, who assembled an inexperienced election team, faced controversies of his own. The Globe and Mail reported that he had never worked as an insurance broker as his party bio claimed and that he hold dual Canada-US citizenship.
Mr. Singh’s performance in the debates and his response to Mr. Trudeau’s blackface controversy gave him moments to rise above the fray, and prompted voters to reconsider the New Democrats.
In Quebec, the BQ leader Mr. Blanchet tied his campaign closely to the policies of Quebec’s popular Premier, François Legault, and avoided talking about his party’s original purpose, Quebec separatism, for much of the campaign.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May started with high hopes that the Greens could pick up seats, not just in British Columbia, but also in the East. However, as she tried to position her party beyond its climate change focus, she was tripped up by questions about abortion and separatism.
ROBERT FIFEOTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
The Globe and Mail, October 21, 2019