The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the elections in Canada, which saw Justin Trudeau’s progressive Liberal Party lose vote share and seats, but still come out on top with a result that was better than feared.
After multiple government and personal scandals involving interference in the SNC-Lavalin case and multiple blackface costumes, Trudeau emerged relatively unscathed, but will now lead Canada with a minority government.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau cut through a jubilant moment Monday night, as he stood under Liberal red-tinted spotlights to celebrate their freshly-won minority government. It was around 1 a.m., and Trudeau pivoted the crowd’s attention to one of the evening’s grim outcomes for the Liberals — they didn’t have a single seat now in Alberta or Saskatchewan.
“I’ve heard your frustration, and I want to be there to support you,” Trudeau said, before throngs of news cameras, in a bid to appeal directly to voters in the two prairie provinces. He assured residents of Saskatchewan and Alberta that he saw them as an “essential” part of Canada as a whole.
“To those who did not vote for us, know that we will work every single day for you,” Trudeau pledged from the stage.
Trudeau’s nod to the Prairies was a relatively sober moment in what was otherwise a highly charged speech, where an energetic Trudeau claimed that the narrow Liberal victory on Monday night — 156 seats, as of 2:10 a.m. Eastern Time — was a rejection of “division and negativity,” and a vote of confidence towards a so-called progressive agenda.
“I have heard you, my friends. You are sending our Liberal team back to work,” Trudeau said.
His most emotional comments of the night were delivered in French, and directed to his family. He told his wife, Sophie, that he loved her — and recalled the early days of his political career, which he said they started together. “Merci, mon amour,” he said, turning to her.
Trudeau also offered cordial words to his fellow party leaders and their respective families, saying each of them had participated in an “essential exercise in democracy.” He told the crowd that the last four years had been the greatest honour of his life, grinning widely and leaning on the podium. “And tonight, you’re sending us back to work for you,” he declared.
Though Trudeau’s short early-morning appearance elicited the expected cheers and chants from the crowd of Liberal supporters, the event in Montreal was somewhat subdued, especially in the first few hours. The crowd never entirely filled out their event hall at the Palais des congres de Montreal.
Doors were slated to open to members of the public at 7:00 p.m., but until around 9:45, few trickled in. Meanwhile, Trudeau and his family watched the earliest results from behind closed doors — opened only briefly to media, for a controlled photo-op.
Clad in a white pullover sweater for the private portion of the evening before donning a suit for his victory speech, with his youngest son on his lap, Trudeau’s eyes were fixated on the screen in front of him. There, Atlantic Canada numbers were starting to emerge. The Conservatives won four Liberal-held seats in the region; the Greens and NDP also won a single seat apiece.
Back in the hall, supporter Prithviraj Sharma lingered near the stage, where Trudeau wouldn’t appear for several hours yet. Sharma was among the first attendees in the room. He told iPolitics he’d tried to attend Trudeau’s victory party in 2015, but was kept out by the crowd that beat him to the punch.
“This time, I made it a point that I should come on time,” Sharma said. He surmised around 9 p.m. that supporters might still be out voting, or possibly having dinner, and that the room would fill later.
The first concentrated burst of energy in the fledgling crowd came when Liberal incumbent Ginette Petitpas Taylor secured her seat in New Brunswick, shortly after 9:30 p.m.
By 10:08 p.m., the election had been called for the Liberals, and supporters in the room erupted into a chorus of hoots and whistles. Several attendees embraced, leaping and chanting before throngs of news cameras. Two women then turned back to the results, and clasped their hands beneath their chins. It was yet unclear just how much power the Trudeau Liberals had gleaned for their second mandate.
“I have the shivers,” supporter Andrea Robertson said, moments after the Liberal plurality was confirmed on the big screens above.
Among the more raucous moments of the night, before Trudeau took to the stage, was Stephen Guilbeault’s win in Laurier-Ste-Marie. The news whipped the crowd into a chant of Guilbeault’s name.
Supporters were also stirred by the results from other parties. One supporter booed loudly when a riding that was leaning Conservative flashed on the big screens — though the Liberals had already won.
Another supporter in the vicinity remarked that the NDP needed to win more seats. Later on in the night, cheers erupted when People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier’s riding began to sway Conservative, then again when a news clip showed Bernier taking the stage to concede he lost.
A hush fell over the crowd as early results indicated a lead for Liberal-turned-Independent Jody Wilson-Raybould. Wilson-Raybould, who Trudeau booted from caucus amid this spring’s SNC-Lavalin affair, won her seat in Vancouver Granville and will be returning to the House alongside Trudeau’s new minority government.
The SNC-Lavalin affair and subsequent ethics commissioner report were notable bruises on Trudeau’s personal image this year. The federal Conservatives wielded the series of events on the campaign trail, to allege corruption within the Liberal government.
The crowd in Montreal on Monday was not blind to the impacts of the SNC-Lavalin revelations, nor other missteps by Trudeau and his government.
Attendee Charles Chen felt that the SNC-Lavalin case, and Trudeau’s recently revealed history of wearing blackface, were among the biggest issues the federal Liberals had to overcome in voters’ eyes. But Chen still said the Trudeau government’s action around promoting diversity was one of his key reasons for voting red.
Nicholas Caissie, another event attendee, told iPolitics that he didn’t think Trudeau had been “strong enough in his message” on the campaign trail — particularly when facing tough questions about issues such as the federal carbon tax.
“He should have said, ‘You have to pay for pollution. You have to pay. Get over it.’ Instead of trying to make the whole country happy,” Caissie said.
He noted that he’d felt secure about the Liberals’ chances heading into election night, with some fears quashed by what he saw as the possibility of forming a Liberal-involved coalition government. A Liberal-NDP coalition was an outcome that the federal Conservatives warned about in the waning days of the campaign period, but the Liberals never confirmed such a plot to be in the cards.
Trudeau and his team had pushed hard on their environmental plan in recent weeks, including a pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 — though details of the pathway to achieving that goal were thin on the campaign trail. Still, Sophia Nemeth, a member of McGill University’s Liberal chapter, said some of her peers felt that Trudeau hadn’t offered enough on climate change. Others were disillusioned by the Liberals’ purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline extension.
“A lot of people are against that, especially young people who are not directly affected by it, so I think that’s where a lot of people have made their choice,” Nemeth told iPolitics.
Natasha Edmonds, another young McGill Liberal, added that she felt like the election in 2015 was a referendum on former prime minister Stephen Harper — a driving quality she felt this race just didn’t have. A third McGill student, Chip Smiths, said this race felt “much dirtier” than the last.
Nonetheless, some of the Liberals’ key messages from the campaign landed clearly with supporters in the room. Nemeth, who hails from Ontario, told iPolitics her biggest source of election anxiety was the chance of a Conservative government making changes to her financial assistance for university — falling into a comparison the Liberals relied on during the campaign, and likening the record of Premier Doug Ford to a prospective federal Conservative government.
Despite a campaign that often relied on criticisms of provincial leaders like Ford or Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Trudeau stressed in his speech during the wee hours of Tuesday that their new mandate would focus on what unified Canadians — rather than what divided them.
“We all want safer communities, a cleaner planet, and a good quality of life,” he said. “That is the world we’re working towards. And if we unite around these common goals, I know we can achieve them.”