The results are in: Justin Trudeau will serve another term as Prime Minister of Canada following his party’s victory Monday night. The Liberals managed to gather enough seats to form government at 155, with two seats pending, but not enough to retain their majority. The Conservatives will return to the opposition benches.
The Conservatives gained seats, finishing with 121, an increase from 99 in 2015, but not enough to win a plurality. In addition, the CPC managed to win the popular vote with 34.4 per cent, compared to the Liberal’s 33.1. The NDP had trouble holding onto its seats, as it fell from 44 seats in 2015 to 24 seats nationwide. The positive traction they gained following the debates did not translate into seat gains, but they did hold onto official party status – a position that was not likely at the beginning of the campaign.
The Greens gained a seat in Fredericton, New Brunswick, their first ever outside of the province of British Columbia, leaving them with three seats in the House.
Perhaps the most surprising, the Bloc Quebecois finished with 32 seats, up from the 10 they had last election, playing a crucial role in the minority outcome. The Bloc finished in third place, despite being only a regionally-concentrated party in Quebec.
Voters Look Past Trudeau’s Flaws
It appears the Liberals have survived, though not without concessions, challenges, and scandals that plagued the party throughout the year. Beginning with Trudeau’s trip to Aga Khan’s island, followed by the SNC-Lavalin scandal, paired with his blackface appearances, the party saw constant fluctuation in the polls, making it anyone’s guess as to who would form government come October 22nd.
Despite being reduced to a minority, it is clear Liberal promises resonated with voters. The party’s platform includes fiscal responsibility, changes to post-secondary education repayment, national pharmacare, and a concrete climate change plan.
Though the Liberals were able to come through these difficulties with a loyal support basis, they did not do so untethered. Perhaps without their questionable actions, the party would have retained a majority.
A noteworthy Liberal who failed to get re-elected is Liberal minister Ralph Goodale, who lost his seat in Regina-Wascana to the Conservative candidate. Goodale was the only Liberal in Saskatchewan, further exemplifying the Liberal’s separation from the Prairies.
On the other hand, another former Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould won her seat as an Independent candidate in the riding of Vancouver Granville after being expelled from the Liberal caucus earlier this year.
Quebec as a Crucial Battleground Province
Just weeks before the election, the Liberal’s comfortable hold on Quebec was challenged by Yves-Francois Blanchet, leader of the Bloc Quebecois. Following the French debate commissioned by TVA, the Bloc saw a spike in polling numbers, which are in part to blame for the Liberal’s reduction to minority status.
As the second-largest province in Canada with 78 seats, the Liberals were counting on Trudeau’s home province to provide them with the seats needed to form a majority, 40 of which they won in 2015.
Despite Justin Trudeau attempting to spin the SNC-Lavalin ethics breach as a measure to protect Quebec jobs, he could not rally the complete support needed in the province. During the official English Leaders’ Debate, Trudeau stated in relation to SNC: “the responsibility of any Prime Minister is to stand up for jobs.” Trudeau’s efforts failed to win over the number of Quebec voters needed for the party to maintain its majority status.
The Bloc finished with 32 seats. Even though the party is regionally-concentrated in Quebec, it got more seats than both national parties: the NDP and Greens. Now that the Liberals have been re-elected into power, it will be interesting to watch what kind of coalitions – if any – form between the parties on the right, and those on the left. Though, Andrew Scheer has ruled out any formal coalition with the Bloc Quebecois.
The Conservatives, similarly, fell short in Quebec. Despite kicking-off his prime ministerial bid in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Andrew Scheer was unable to make a meaningful gain in the province, nor the riding. In addition, his performance in the first French debate underwhelmed Quebecers, and his willingness to build pipelines through Quebec was unpopular throughout the province. The Conservatives fell short with a mere 10 seats in the province.
The Last-Minute Rise (and Fall) of the NDP
This election, the Liberals truly faced tough opposition from all sides of the spectrum with Bloc gains in Quebec, the Prairies’ consistent Conservative support, and the NDP creeping up in the polls days before the election. The NDP saw the biggest rise in support from the Prairies, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada.
As a party that was polling behind the Greens at the start of the campaign, the NDP prospered from an increased momentum following Singh’s performance in the official debates. Despite increase momentum and relatively-high polling numbers in the days leading up to the election, the NDP was not able to translate this into seats, leaving them with only one representative in Quebec, a province which the NDP was on track to losing all its seats in.
As no party was able to form a majority government, the NDP has increased importance in the House of Commons. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has previously ruled out forming a coalition with Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives. As the Liberals won the most seats, but not a majority, they might need to rely on the NDP MPs in the House in order to pass any substantial legislation. Opposition parties have historically supported minority governments on an issue-by-issue basis in past Parliaments, but formal coalitions are rare in Canada.
The Death of the People’s Party
People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier, former candidate for the Conservative leadership, failed to win his seat in his riding of Beauce, a riding which he has held since 2006. Despite the PPC failing to gain any seats, Bernier claims the PPC still has a future.
Bernier’s party, one that focused on tighter restrictions on immigration, less political correctness, lower taxes, and a strict no-action on climate change, managed to run 315 candidates nationwide.
Despite being invited to the national leaders’ debates, Bernier stayed mostly out of the media until the previous week when allegations of Conservative targeted “seek and destroy” efforts towards the party.
The future for the PPC is unclear, but with limited funds and a leader unable to win his own seat, it is likely this will be the party’s only election.
What Does a Minority Government Mean for Canada?
In the days and weeks leading up to the election, a minority government was predicted. Now that the Liberals were elected to form a minority government, the first in eight years under former PM Stephen Harper, there is uncertainty about what comes next.
As there are 338 seats in the House of Commons, a party winning 170 or more seats has a majority, meaning the party does not need votes from other party members to pass their government’s legislative agenda. In the case of a minority government, parties must work together to get virtually anything done. As the Liberals can, at most, only hold 157 seats in the House, they need to gather support from at least another 13 MPs to pass legislation.
Rumours have been surfacing about a potential NDP-Liberal coalition government, which means the two parties would form government together, with members from all included parties getting spots in the federal cabinet. But, as the Liberals won the most seats, they will likely be looking at options beyond a coalition government.
The Liberals perhaps could enter into a confidence and supply arrangement: when one party tries to form government and get support from other parties in exchange for an agreed list of priorities or policies. Or, the party could turn to a case-by-case route, whereas parties worked together to get the support needed as they went.
At the end of the day, a minority government shows the Liberals that Canadians were not satisfied with the last four years of government. Perhaps, in a minority government situation, the Liberals will be forced to adopt views of further-left parties, such as the NDP, and will better be able to represent the views of Canadians.
Edited by Evelyne Goulet.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
Image by Alex Guibord via Flickr Creative Commons