Prime Minister Justin Trudeau interrupted Conservative rival Andrew Scheer’s concession speech to declare victory for a second term Monday.
But Trudeau failed to hang onto his majority. His Liberals, a diminished version of the party that swept to power in 2015, will now need to win support from other parties to form a workable government that can deliver its campaign promises around climate action and affordability. Trudeau's most natural allies — though no alliance has yet been formed — are likely the NDP and the Greens.
Trudeau will lead a divided country, with the Bloc Quebecois surging in Quebec, the NDP holding enough seats to affect the balance of power and Alberta and Saskatchewan having no Liberal seats and therefore no representation in cabinet.
Speaking to a jubilant crowd in Montreal, Trudeau thanked supporters for their faith and extended an olive branch to the west.
“To those who did not vote for us, know that we will work every single day for you. We will govern for everyone,” Trudeau said.
Speaking directly to people in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Prime Minister added a message of unity: “I’ve heard your frustration,” he said. “I want to be there to support you.”
But that unity message contrasted sharply with Trudeau's unusual and unexpected choice to interrupt Scheer. It’s convention for the winner of an election to wait for the losers to concede before making a victory speech.
Speaking to a crowd in Regina, Scheer — who held onto his trademark smile but looked visibly deflated — conceded that “tonight’s result isn’t what we wanted.” But he said the Conservatives had put Trudeau “on notice” by denying the Liberals a second majority.
“Our party is strong, we are united and we are on the march,” Scheer said. “When your government falls, Conservatives will be ready and we will win… We are the government-in-waiting.”
Throughout the campaign, with climate a top issue for the first time, the challenger parties hammered the Liberals for perceived missteps on the environment file.
From the left, the NDP lambasted the government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which will greatly expand Canada’s carbon emissions, and pointed out the Liberal climate plan wouldn't get Canada to its Paris Agreement goals. The right, meanwhile, criticized the Liberal price on carbon but failed to deliver a compelling plan of its own.
Justin Trudeau's Liberals appear to have secured a second term, but failed to hang onto their majority. They'll now need support from other parties to form a workable government. #cdnpoli #elxn43
All that will be on the table when the next Liberal government takes office.
“The election outcome matters to millions of Canadians. It was about something,” said David Moscrop, an Ottawa-based political scientist and author of the book Too Dumb for Democracy.
“For young people it was a climate change election. The stakes were high. That doesn't mean it wasn't nasty and stupid at times.”
Conservative breakaway Maxime Bernier — who formed the anti-immigration and climate change-denying People’s Party of Canada after losing a leadership vote to Scheer in 2017 — did not win in his riding of Beauce in Quebec. No other PPC candidates won a seat, including star candidate Renata Ford, the widow of the infamous late Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
The New Democrats, whose leader Jagmeet Singh’s campaigning and debating efforts helped boost the progressive party’s chances after a sluggish start, looked poised to take seats 25 seats, 14 fewer than they had before. The NDP underperformed compared to the lofty hopes presented by its late surge, but vastly overperformed earlier predictions of catastrophic losses.
Singh spoke to an upbeat crowd in his riding of Burnaby, B.C. Monday night, reaffirming his party’s plans to “play a constructive and positive role” in the incoming minority government.
“Canadians sent a pretty clear message tonight that they want a government that works for them, not the rich,” Singh said.
Going into the election, the Greens had hoped to capitalize on a wave of support for climate action. In the end, they made nominal gains, when Jenica Atwin took a new seat for the Greens in Fredericton, N.B., joining Leader Elizabeth May and the party’s second MP, Paul Manly.
Independent Jody Wilson-Raybould — the former Liberal justice minister who was kicked out of the party in April after speaking out about what she said was undue pressure to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin affair — won her Vancouver seat. Jane Philpott, who sided with Wilson-Raybould and was also booted from the Liberal Party, lost her seat in the 905 region of Ontario to Liberal challenger Helena Jaczek.
A country divided
Support from the main parties varied widely by geography, with the Liberals performing best in Atlantic Canada and Ontario and the Conservatives strongest in Alberta and the Prairies. The Conservatives had a slight lead over the Liberals in terms of popular vote, but because their support was so concentrated in the west, it wasn’t enough to gain them more seats. At 33 per cent of the popular vote, the Trudeau Liberals have the lowest percentage of the past six minority governments, dating back to 1965.
The Liberals snagged crucial seats in Toronto and its vote-rich suburbs. The NDP, meanwhile, failed to take any seats in Canada’s most populous city.
In Quebec, the battle for votes was largely fought between the Liberals and the resurgent Bloc Quebecois, who take divergent positions on the province’s secularism law, Bill 21, which forbids public sector workers from wearing visible religious symbols.
The Bloc, which seeks as much independence from Ottawa for the mostly French-speaking province as possible, opposed any federal intervention to change the law, which critics say goes against Canada’s constitutional Charter. The Liberals, who usually garner support from federalist Quebeckers, have hinted that they may decide to challenge the law if re-elected.
The Bloc stood to take 32 seats Monday night, more than tripling their previous seat count of 10.
Daniel Westlak, a post-doctoral political science fellow at Queen’s University, said all of this was expected.
“Neither the Liberals, nor the Conservatives gave voters reason to vote for them. They gave voters reason to vote for other parties,” he said. “In a general election that’s not good enough.”
Both the Conservatives and the Liberals lost their deputy leaders Monday night.
Trudeau’s minister of public safety and deputy leader, Ralph Goodale, lost the Regina seat he’s held since 1993 to Conservative Michael Kram — leaving Saskatchewan entirely blue. But Scheer’s deputy, Lisa Raitt, lost her Milton, Ont. seat to Liberal Adam Joseph van Koeverden, a former Olympic kayaker.
Aside from a lone NDP seat in Edmonton, Alberta was also awash in a sea of Tory blue Monday night.
The Liberals lost their three Alberta seats. Kent Hehr fell to Conservative Greg McLean in Calgary, and Randy Boissonault lost to Tory Greg McLean in Edmonton.
Trudeau’s minister of natural resources, Amarjeet Sohi, was ousted in Edmonton — he lost to Conservative Tim Uppal, who has been swept up in allegations of wrongdoing surrounding Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s 2017 bid to become leader of the provincial United Conservative Party.
‘It wasn’t the nastiest campaign in Canadian history, but among the nastiest’
The campaign, which officially kicked off on Sept.11, was a rough and tumble affair by Canadian standards. It started with Scheer hammering Trudeau about the SNC-Lavalin affair, then moved to questions about Scheer’s views on abortion and LGBTQ rights, followed by a doctored photo of Elizabeth May holding a reusable coffee cup, then shocking photos of Trudeau in black and brownface.
A string of candidates stepped down over past sins, including homophobic and racist comments that had not previously surfaced. And then there was a fake sex scandal, and the rising influence of political advocacy groups that used viral memes to appeal to voters.
On the campaign trail, the parties largely focused on affordability and response to the climate emergency. The NDP proposed universal pharmacare and also got in a major spat with the Greens over racism allegations.
The Liberals framed themselves as the antithesis to “Conservative cuts,” while the Tories attacked the reliability of the Liberals to serve the Canadian people by putting out a campaign about Trudeau's ethics. In one notable moment, the Conservatives portrayed the Liberals' two campaign planes as a blow to their environmental agenda.
“It wasn’t the nastiest campaign in Canadian history, but among the nastiest — in part a consequence of social media, in part because of stupid things we found out about the prime minister, in part because of the close race,” said Moscrop.
Part of the reason for the polarized campaign was the very much changed landscape.
“This year was distinct from 2015 because 2015 was decisively a referendum on Conservatives, which they already lost before the campaign started,” Moscrop.
As the Liberals attempt to govern for a second time, they’ll tackle a very different political landscape. When Trudeau was first elected in 2015, an NDP government was in power in the country’s largest oil-producing region in Alberta, while a Liberal government was in charge in Canada’s most populous province, Ontario.
During the campaign, NDP and Bloc Quebecois gained the most momentum, Westlake said, indicating that “a minority government was in order.”
“Voters come into elections with preconceptions with who the leaders are and who they’re voting for,” Westlake said.
This played out differently for different parties. For the NDP, the delay in getting a leader, nominating candidates and getting good press at the last leg of the campaign limited their success Monday night. And while parties like the PPC have had success around the world, they couldn’t contend votes from the Conservative base with enough pressure.
And since 2015, a wave of Tory blue has swept across the country, frustrating the prime minister’s attempts to align with the provinces.
Many of those provincial governments have fought Ottawa’s price on carbon, which Scheer said he would cancel on his first day, had he become prime minister.
“This was one of the most unusual elections in Canadian history and it shows the stresses our first-past-the-post system is put under because we have multiple parties,” Moscrop said.
“In the aftermath we’ll have to look at how the system currently operates, but also how we want it to operate.”
Editor's Note: This story was updated at 1:58 a.m. on Oct. 22, 2019 to include additional election results.