Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party survived a multipronged challenge from both the left and right in Canada’s general election on Monday but he will return to power as the head of a minority government.
In what is widely considered a rebuke of his first term, Mr Trudeau’s Liberals won or were leading in 155 electoral districts, falling 15 seats short of winning a majority in the House of Commons. In the 2015 poll, the Liberals won a majority with 184 seats.
The prime minister’s chief rival, the Conservative party led by Andrew Scheer, won 122 seats, which was an improvement on its 2015 result but short of what it had been expecting. A week ago, some polls had the Conservatives winning enough votes to lead a minority government.
“The Liberals will be pleasantly surprised by this outcome,” said Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto. “The Conservatives can only be depressed. A lot of people felt uncomfortable with Scheer, and Trudeau was the beneficiary of that.”
While the Liberals secured the most seats, the Conservatives won the popular vote with 34.5 per cent. The Liberals attracted 32.9 per cent, down from 39.5 per cent in 2015.
During the campaign, analysts were uncertain whether rival left-leaning parties would split the progressive vote, paving the way for a Conservative victory.
Mr Trudeau had hammered away at that message, which Jagmeet Singh, leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party, repeatedly described as a campaign of “fear”.
The warnings, however, appear to have helped the Liberals. The NDP was held to 25 seats, a decline of 14 seats from 2015, while Canada’s Green party added just one seat to bring its total to three.
The big winner of the night was the Bloc Québécois, the nationalist party born out of Quebec’s sovereignty movement in the 1990s, which had lost party status in 2015. On Monday the Bloc became Canada’s third largest party in the House with 32 seats, while its leader Yves-Francois Blanchet became the first Bloc leader to win a seat in the House since 2008.
As the leader of a minority government, Mr Trudeau will have to maintain the confidence of the House to stay in power. If he loses a confidence vote, such as on his government’s first speech from the throne or budget, the government would fall.
However, no single party holds a clear balance of power with the Liberals, which will allow Mr Trudeau to work with different parties issue-by-issue to pass legislation.
“The Trudeau government is going to keep on the track it’s been on as if it got a majority,” Mr Wiseman said. “You’ll see them looking to all the parties for support on different issues.”
The 40-day election campaign was regarded as one of the ugliest and most bitter in a generation. Mr Wiseman said that meant that smaller parties would be reluctant to topple Mr Trudeau’s minority government.
“Any party that forces an election right now would be punished by voters,” he said.
Mr Trudeau came into the campaign battered by a series of controversies, including two separate rulings by Canada’s federal ethics tsar that the prime minister broke conflict of interest regulations.
The first found that Mr Trudeau had accepted a paid vacation from the billionaire Aga Khan on his private island. The second ruling found that Mr Trudeau pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould, his former justice minister, to help engineering company SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal charges.
After Ms Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s first indigenous cabinet minister, resigned, Mr Trudeau ejected her and another former high-profile cabinet minister, Jane Philpott, from the Liberal caucus.
Both women ran as independents in this election with Ms Wilson Raybould winning in Vancouver.
Part way through the campaign photos and a video emerged showing that as recently as 2001 Mr Trudeau put on brownface and blackface make-up.
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