Much ado about nothing? #Elxn44 was like 2019 all over again with the Liberals holding on to a minority.
There’s still much to pick through. Most political observers looking at Monday night’s election results came away thinking it was all for naught. The final seat count would seem to support that thesis. The Liberals (158), Conservatives (119), NDP (25), and Bloc (34) ended up where they started before the election, give or take a handful of seats.
But it was Conservative party leader Erin O’Toole who was the big loser on the night.
The Trudeau Liberals didn’t get their majority. But billed as the guy who would deliver Ontario to the Conservatives, O’Toole stumbled in Canada’s most vote-rich province and was shut out almost completely in the crucial GTA. The Conservative leader now finds himself fighting for his political life. The knives are already out.
The election results say at least two things.
First, many Canadians who didn’t want an election in the first place were wary about switching their vote during a pandemic. Secondly, Canadians broadly support the direction of the Liberal party and minority governments in general. It’s the fifth time in seven elections that Canadians have elected a minority government.
Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet put it best when he said that the message from voters is clear. “The parties will have to work together to do better.” He told supporters in French that it was “our duty to act in good faith and in order put aside the rancour of the past.”
Don’t bet on it. The country is more divided than ever. We saw it during the election. We heard it during O’Toole’s concession speech, which unlike his competitors struck a startlingly aggressive tone.
O’Toole started his speech talking about “healing” divisions in the country, but was quick to go on the offensive, suggesting that the Liberals are already planning another election in 18 months. That’s highly unlikely. It was meant more for his base.
But it’s O’Toole who wavered during the campaign, flip-flopping on key platform positions and running from questions in the last days. Potential successors were already lining up before Monday’s vote when the momentum of the first two weeks of the campaign stalled abruptly. It was little coincidence that his advisers were already leaking word before the votes were counted that holding the Liberals to a minority would be a victory.
But within minutes of a minority government being called detractors were emerging from the shadows.
Anti-abortion group Campaign Life sent an email to supporters suggesting its time for him to go. Former party interim leader Rona Ambrose offered on CTV that O’Toole made a “mistake in judgment” when he failed to come out for vaccine passports. Despite holding on to most seats out West, the party’s popular support in Alberta fell by some 14 percent overall, losing a handful of seats to the Liberals and NDP in the process. The breakthrough in B.C. never materialized. As of the morning of September 20, the party has two fewer seats than it started with at the beginning of the campaign.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile, struck a more cautious tone. It was a marked departure from his attacks on Trudeau during the campaign. Singh noted the party’s efforts to increase income supports like CERB during the pandemic. He said the party would continue to “fight for Canadians.”
The NDP increased its seat totals but it’s the Bloc that will likely hold the balance of power in third place in the House.
For Trudeau, the election results are humbling. To be sure, some Liberal strategists expressed concerns he would be punished at the polls. It was a subdued Liberal leader who showed up in his home riding of Papineau in Montreal to cast his ballot.
He talked in his speech about being given a “clear mandate”.
“Some have talked about division but what I see is a determination to end the pandemic.” More importantly, he said that he had “heard” Canadians.
“You want to know that members of parliament no matter what political stripe will have your back.”
He ended his speech with a quote from Laurier about remembering the past while looking to the future. Whether the post-election spirit of cooperation will devolve into partisanship as the pandemic fades remains to be seen. At least for now three of the main party leaders seem to have gotten the message from voters.