Justin Trudeau Hangs On In Canadian Election That No One Wanted

MONTREAL—Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will likely stay on the job after a narrow victory Monday night, but there’s no telling for how long the one-time progressive darling will remain there.

While the full results won’t be known until a raft of mail-in ballots are counted Tuesday, Trudeau’s Liberal Party is projected to improve its standing and remain the largest party in the House of Commons—though it will likely fall short of the outright majority Trudeau sought to recapture, in which case the party will continue to need to rely on smaller parties to govern.

It was a campaign that, as his competitors reminded the public often, nobody wanted. Trudeau called the election—a fast-paced one, even by Canadian standards, spanning just 36 days—insisting that he would need a new mandate to pass a raft of ambitious plans to bring Canada out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet on the campaign trail itself, Trudeau seemed to struggle with what the election was actually about. Despite promising to put the threat of climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples front and center, Trudeau largely turned the campaign into a fight over vaccine mandates and assault weapons.

Trudeau scolded Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole—a former lawyer, lobbyist, and military helicopter pilot—for refusing to require mandatory vaccines for public sector workers and travellers by rail and air.

O’Toole ran as a more moderate conservative in the race, but couldn’t shake a skepticism from across the country over his party’s position on abortion access, firearms, private healthcare, and COVID-19 vaccines. While he initially ran promising to legalize a slate of currently-banned assault weapons, he reversed his position mid-way through the campaign—essentially scrapping a whole plank of his platform.

His party also refused to say how many of his candidates were fully vaccinated in a country where 80 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, and where everyone who wants a dose can receive one.

For his strident support of a federal vaccine passport, Trudeau was stalked from campaign event to campaign event by a mob of unruly protesters. Some even threw rocks. The agitators were part of a broader protest movement opposing lockdown measures, mask mandates, and vaccine passports.

Those angry rallies were roundly condemned by all party leaders, except for Maxime Bernier, who channeled that frustration into his People’s Party of Canada—a far-right nationalist party that has taken cues from the likes of Donald Trump and France’s Marine Le Pen. Bernier led a number of fiery rallies around the country trying to tap into that anger, and was even

arrested on the campaign trail for violating public health measures.

However intense that fury may have been, it wasn’t so widespread as Bernier seems likely to be shut out of Parliament after capturing only about five percent of the vote.

While Trudeau held on, there are signs that his progressive coalition is slowly coming apart. The centre-left New Democratic Party picked up a handful of new seats across the country after spending the campaign calling for an end to government support for Canada’s sizable oil and gas sector and new taxes on the rich. Leader Jagmeet Singh—the first non-white leader of a national party in Canada—remained far and away the most popular of the candidates, but couldn’t translate that into broader electoral success.

The spoiler in the race, unsurprisingly, was the separatist Bloc Québécois. The party always positions itself as a champion of Quebec, fighting for more powers for the partly-autonomous province. Leader Yves-François Blanchet tried to put a wedge between his party and the Liberals on the topic of the Bill 21 Legislation adopted by Quebec’s National Assembly that forbids public sector employees including police officers, teachers and judges from wearing religious symbols on the job. Blanchet is a vocal supporter of the bill, which remains popular in Quebec, while Trudeau is generally against it. The tactic didn’t appear to work, as the oc Québécois. performed roughly as it did in the previous election.

All told, Monday’s results appeared to basically enshrine the status quo in Canada. The country remains deeply divided along geographic lines, and Trudeau has not figured out a way to expand his political base. Speculation about his political future has already begun, and is likely to pick up in the days and weeks to come.

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Justin Ling