Trudeau: Red-Faced, But Still in Power

By Richard Livingstone.

This week’s federal elections in Canada left the Liberal Party’s Justin Trudeau in power as Prime Minister, but without a majority.  He will spend the next four years relying on other parties to support his minority government to get legislation passed.

A year ago, it all seemed so different: the western world’s golden boy appeared as if he could do no wrong; his youthful, woke charm contrasted starkly with Donald Trump across the border to the south.

He had made some missteps – the ethics violations over a holiday in the Bahamas as a guess of the Aga Khan, the ambassadorial dinner party with an Indian extremist – but most Canadians still seemed willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Things all changed this year as he was beset with scandal.

First, he was found by the Parliament’s Ethics Commissioner to have tried to interfere in the prosecution of the SNC-Lavalin construction firm, a row that has rumbled on most of the year and saw Trudeau drawing much criticism for having two female ministers expelled from the party for criticising his behaviour.

Then, in September, his politically correct credentials were trashed for good as he was embarrassed into having to admit that he was not sure how many times he had worn blackface makeup.

But if the shine had come off the Golden Boy, his luck was that his opponents were made from a baser metal. To his right, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer is an economically right-wing ideologue who had little positive to offer Canadian voters and was damaged by the unpopularity of the Conservative administration in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province.

To Trudeau’s left, the New Democratic Party (NDP) still has not recovered its glory days earlier this decade since the death of its leader Jack Layton in 2011. Its new leader Jagmeet Singh won some praise for his performance in the campaign, but it did little to bolster the party’s votes.

Those depressed fortunes of the three leading national parties created space for others to break through. The combined vote of the big three was 91% in 2015 – this fell to 83% in this election.


The Liberal Party

The woes of Trudeau and his party’s reputation took a toll on its share of the vote, dropping over 6%. The 33.1% that his party secured was the lowest in Canada’s history tallied by a governing party. They were overtaken in votes – but crucially not seats – by the Conservatives. Despite losing votes heavily in the west of the country, the Liberals held on in the east.

The party now holds no seats between Winnipeg and the Vancouver suburbs, losing half the twenty-nine seats it previously held across British Columbia and the Prairie provinces. But it only lost a seat apiece in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and none on Prince Edward Island. In Ontario, the most populous province, the party lost four seats but gained another three (two from the Conservatives and one from the NDP). In Quebec, they lost nine seats (mainly to Bloc Quebecois) but gained another four (all from the NDP).

In total, they lost 27 seats and their overall majority, but were still by far the largest party.

The Conservative Party

The Conservatives overtook the Liberals in their share of the vote, but not in seats as they failed to sway voters in key marginal seats (called “ridings” in Canada) in the east of the country. In the west, they stacked up their votes in seats that they already held. In their stronghold of Alberta, they won all but one of the 34 ridings (and all in the province’s largest city, Calgary), and they took every one of them in neighbouring Saskatchewan. In liberal, free-spirited British Columbia, they jumped from the third placed party to largest, in terms of seats.

But their gains in Ontario were limited (five gains, two losses) and they lost seats to the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec. In the Atlantic maritime provinces, they could only regain four of the thirteen ridings that they lost in 2015.

The New Democratic Party

The NDP now has less than a quarter of the seats that it did under Layton, and lost 23 of the 44 ridings that it won last time around, although it did also win three new seats. Its heaviest loses were in Quebec, where it lost 15 of the 16 contests it won in 2015, mainly to the resurgent Bloc Quebecois. It also lost its three MPs in Saskatchewan, the province where the party had its earliest successes.

Their largest base of support now is in British Columbia: 11 of their 24 MPs are there, including Jagmeet Singh. They hold five of the seven ridings on Vancouver Island, and another four in Vancouver itself. 

Two of its three gains were in ridings that it lost to the Liberal Party four years ago, in Winnipeg and St. John’s in Newfoundland. The final gain was Nunavut, the world’s largest constituency in the Arctic north that is predominantly Inuit in its population. Nunavut now has the distinction of being the only riding to have been held by each of the three large national parties in each of the last three elections.

The final compensation is that whilst they have lost seats they have gained more influence. Given the hung Parliament, Trudeau’s minority government will need to rely on other parties to win votes, and the NDP look the most likely party to be asked to contribute those votes.

The Bloc Quebecois

The big gainers in these elections were the Bloc Quebecois, who more than trebled their representation from 10 to 32.

This is still a long way behind their 1990s heyday, when they held almost three-quarters of the seats in Quebec and were the national official opposition to the Liberal Party (the Conservatives were reduced to just two seats in the 1993 election). But it marks significant progress from their 2011 low point, when they held only four seats and lost official party status in the federal parliament.

Much of their loses in 2011 were to the NDP, and the result this time was a reversal of that. 11 of its 22 gains were at the NDP’s expense.

The Green Party

The other party that will be pleased with the elections is the Green Party. In 2015, they won a single riding, on Vancouver Island – the only riding that they had won in any election at that time. Then, they picked up a neighbouring seat on the island earlier this year (from the NDP) in a by-election and they held on to this in these elections. All the way on the other side of Canada, they also won a third seat this time around, taking a district from the Liberals in New Brunswick.

And finally,

The above five parties won 337 of the 338 ridings. The remaining seat was won by Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former Attorney General of Canada that Trudeau had expelled from the Liberal Party earlier this year for her criticisms during the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Wilson-Raybould had won her Vancouver seat at its creation in 2015, but had done so despite it having been nominally Conservative going into that election. Given that the Liberals and the other parties all stood candidates against her this time around, her success in holding the riding is a huge personal victory and a clear indication of whom her constituents judged to be in the right in her disagreement with the Prime Minister.

And is yet another reason for Trudeau to be left red-faced and humbled.

The chart below shows the 2015 (outer ring) and 2019 (inner ring) breakdown of seats. As the largest party, the Liberals hold on to power but will need the support of other parties – particularly the NDP – to pass legislation and budgets.


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