Status quo ante: On Canada elections

23 September 2021 00:02 IST
Updated: 23 September 2021 00:46 IST

Voters backed Trudeau, but took a dim view of his decision to call the snap election

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had framed the September 20 Parliamentary election as Canada’s “pivotal moment”. Two years into the four-year term of his minority government, he dissolved Parliament and called the snap election hoping that Canadians would give him an absolute majority. However, Mr. Trudeau must be both relieved and disappointed with the preliminary results. His Liberal Party got the most seats in Parliament, at 158, just one more than what they won in the 2019 vote, but well short of a majority of 170 seats. To continue to stay in power, the Liberals will have to depend on smaller parties. The Conservatives, who under the leadership of Erin O’Toole took a moderate position on contentious issues from carbon tax to a ban on assault rifles, failed to make any gain. His plan was to reach out to the voters beyond the Conservative base and take on the liberals on policy specifics rather than on ideology. They secured 119 seats, down from 121 in 2019. While the centre-left New Democrats, led by Jagmeet Singh, won 25 seats, one more than in the last vote, the Bloc Québécois, which backs Quebec independence, took 34 seats, a gain of two. Mr. Singh, whose party backed Mr. Trudeau’s minority government after the 2019 election, has hinted that he would continue to support the Liberals.

Mr. Trudeau, son of the former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, took over the party’s reins in 2013 at a time when the liberal prospects were dim. But a young Mr. Trudeau not only revived the Liberal Party but also led it to a surprise election victory in 2015. He has remained the most influential voice in Canada’s political landscape. In 2019, he secured victory but without an absolute majority, which forced him to seek the support of the New Democrats. Poll numbers for the Liberals soared after the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. By calling the snap election, Mr. Trudeau’s plan was to turn those numbers into actual votes and win a fresh four-year term with a clear majority. But the decision to call a mid-term election was controversial. His rivals called him a political opportunist who had pushed the country into an expensive election — at C$600 million, it is the most expensive in its history — in the midst of the COVID scare. Voter turnout, at 58.44%, was the lowest ever. In the end, the voters backed Mr. Trudeau’s government but stopped short of endorsing his political gamble. Having led the party to three back-to-back victories, he is the undisputed leader of the Liberals. He should focus on the art of coalition politics, finding common ground with the New Democrats for his progressive legislative agenda and providing stable governance to tackle Canada’s myriad problems, from the COVID challenge to the climate crisis.