Canada’s status quo election: Trudeau returned with another minority, faces uncertain future
by Kimberly Speers, Public Administration Teaching Professor, University of Victoria
It seems likely that by the next election, voters will have tired of Trudeau and seek a change of vision — if he’s still leader.
The 2021 Canadian election results were almost a mirror of the results of the 2019 vote. After calling an election in the middle of a fourth COVID-19 wave, Justin Trudeau’s gamble for a majority government failed.
It won’t be an easy time for the re-elected Liberal minority government to lead. There are a multitude of crises the Liberals are returning to and must address — including the impact of climate change, housing affordability, opioid abuse and economic issues like deficit and debt management.
The next election will need to be held by 2025, unless the Liberal government is defeated in a non-confidence motion. It seems likely that by then, voters will have tired of Trudeau and seek a change of vision — if he’s still leader.
If the Liberals were to call another early election, it would likely devastate the party, perhaps in a manner similar to what happened to the Progressive Conservative Party in 1993 when it went from a majority to holding two seats.
The future of the party leaders
A question that always arises in the immediate aftermath of elections is whether party leaders step down in the event of a loss or disappointing results. While some might argue a win is a win, the Liberal party may view the election results as a loss given that the goal was to win a majority.
The air may be running out of Trudeau’s tires, and it will likely be strategic for the Liberal party to change leaders for the next election given the general tendency of Canadians to tire of leaders who are in power for too long.
The Conservative party did not do as well as it had hoped. Polls had suggested the party might win a minority government. The next step for Leader Erin O’Toole will be to meet with caucus members to get their feedback on whether he should continue to lead the party. In his election night concession speech, he suggested he’s not going anywhere. But the decision is not ultimately his to make.
A challenge for O’Toole is the mini-identity crisis the party seemed to experience in the middle of the election campaign. O’Toole tried to build voter support by moving to the centre from the traditional social and fiscal conservative foundation of the Alliance/Reform/Progressive Conservative alliance to a party that looked like the old Progressive Conservative Party.
The hardcore fiscal and social conservatives may find this policy about-face too much and seek someone who represents the core values of the Conservative Party. O’Toole may have a very difficult time gaining support from the powerful old guard.
Will the next election see Rona Ambrose, former interim leader of the Conservative Party, run to take over its helm? If so, the Liberals better be prepared for a fight — and likely a knock-down.
Greens struggle, NDP in sweet spot
It was a difficult election for the Green Party. The next few months will be a trying time for the Greens as they evaluate their performance in the 2021 election.
The Green Party suffered from an internal party crisis leaked to the public in a consistent manner since the new leader, Annamie Paul, was elected a year ago. The divisions had already existed prior to her winning the leadership, but she walked into a ring of fire — and her enemies were her own party.
The Greens are having a leadership review this fall and must figure out who they want to lead them into the next election and whether they can bridge the deep ideological divisions in the party.
But it may be moot. Given the lower popular support for the Green Party and Paul’s inability to win a seat in this election, the writing is on the wall for her to step down.
NDP support was constant from the day the writ dropped right til election night. Similar to other parties, Jagmeet Singh’s support was similar to the 2019 results, despite the fact he had more experience running a national campaign and more money to support his campaign.
Yet the NDP is in an enviable position in the House of Commons compared to the other opposition parties. The Liberals need the NDP to support them, either formally or informally, and to pass legislation so they can hold onto power.
This also means that the NDP can influence the type of legislation that is put forward and the content of those bills, so we may look forward to a Liberal government that’s even more progressive. The New Democrats know the Liberals would not dare to trigger another election any time soon.
Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada (PPC), failed to win his seat in Beauce, Que., nor did any other PPC candidate. Despite the party increasing its popular vote this election by a few percentage points, its future is up in the air given its primary issue was opposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates. What happens when the COVID-19 pandemic ends?
Ruling as a majority?
Canadians may be shaking their heads at the rationale for and the cost of this election but for those who support the Liberal platform, it’s not a bad outcome. If Liberal promises are kept, the national child care program, climate action and housing affordability policies could help many Canadians.
Yet did Canadians need another election to achieve this?
What Canadians definitely don’t want want is another election 16 months from now. In other words, we may have a Liberal government able to govern as a majority simply because of the lack of appetite for another election any time soon.
None of the opposition parties want to pull that trigger, especially if the pandemic lingers.
While this election was challenging for the Liberals, governing in the midst of several crises is going to be even more demanding and taxing.