Liberal supporters trickled into the party headquarters in downtown Montreal on Monday night, apparently worried that they were about to witness an electoral comeuppance for Justin Trudeau.
Yet any jitters quickly turned to cheers as the party secured a minority government, thereby rescuing Trudeau’s legacy – and probably tilting Canada’s political landscape further to the left in the process.
“From coast to coast to coast, Canadians rejected division,” Trudeau said in his victory speech. “We will continue to fight climate change, we will get guns off our streets and we will keep investing in Canadians.”
Lofty words aside, Canada’s 43rd election campaign capped a particularly bruising year for Trudeau, who rose to power in 2014 as an outspoken progressive.
Once in office, he attempted to please both the left and right flanks of Canada’s centrist voters and instead irritated suburbanites and environmentalists by at once introducing a carbon tax and buying an oil pipeline. His image was further damaged when his government was found to have pushed for judicial leniency for SNC-Lavalin, a scandal-plagued engineering firm based in the politically crucial province of Quebec.
Trudeau’s personal reputation suffered another blow when pictures emerged of him in blackface – and suffered again when he couldn’t say how often he’d donned it in public. Though he repeatedly apologised, the incident played into the well-hewed caricature of Trudeau as a hypocritical, out-of-touch dilettante.
Yet in defeating Conservative party, the Liberals have instead called into question the direction of conservativism in Canada. The Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, himself a social conservative, was decidedly uncomfortable discussing issues of abortion, same sex marriage and climate change.
Though Scheer’s plan to scrap Trudeau’s carbon tax was popular in Canada’s oil-producing regions, it put him at odds with public opinion across the country. As a result, the party failed to gain momentum in either Quebec or the vote-rich confines of suburban Ontario.
And the election was also a veritable death knell for the country’s fledging far right party, the People’s Party of Canada. Its leader, former Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, adopted the tone and substance of Trumpian nativism, decrying multiculturalism and promising to decrease immigration. Formed just over a year ago, the PPC ran a nearly full slate of candidates, yet failed to win a single seat.
Trudeau will instead look to his left to prop up his minority government. With just over two dozen seats, the New Democratic Party will likely hold the balance of power in Parliament.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, a practising Sikh, is the first person of colour to lead a federal political party in Canada’s history. The NDP platform is chock full of progressive initiatives, including a national pharmacare plan and a tax on the ultra-rich to help pay for it.
The party is also firmly against further pipeline development, which puts it at odds with the Liberal plan to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline. However, the NDP’s newfound power – the party has never formed a government – is tempered by its empty coffers and Canada’s election fatigue, meaning expediency will likely trump ideology in the short and medium term.
The Liberal party lost a significant number of votes and seats in the election. Trudeau’s reputation as Canada’s “Sweet Woke Bae Prince” is damaged, perhaps permanently, because of his onetime penchant painting his face black. Yet in winning the election despite it all, Justin Trudeau has again turned the focus on his right-leaning rivals across the aisle.