If the messaging from Prime Minister Trudeau’s government was to be believed at the start of this campaign, the choices Canadians would make at the polls on the night of September 20 would come to define the direction the country would take for years to come as we finally began to put the pandemic behind us. It was to be about crucial decisions to address systemic inequities, the impact of the she-cession, and the looming challenges of climate change. It would also be about bending the arc of economic recovery back into something resembling growth and prosperity while restoring the fiscal anchor amid a rising tide of credit risk.
However, as the seat count from last night’s polls slowly came in, the result suggested Canadians have just gone through a costly exercise in affirming nothing more than the status quo: a minority government that will return to the House of Commons to govern a country more divided – and a chamber more rancorous – than ever. The vote count also confirms there is an electorate that is unwilling to give Trudeau’s Liberals a blank cheque for their battle against a public health crisis that moved back into the foreground over the last few weeks, with the Delta variant raging like the summer wildfires in the western provinces.
What the campaign may have also revealed, however, is that the fault lines of divisiveness and a corrosive disaffection with the role government is playing in Canadians’ lives may come to form the basis of a potent two-election strategy for at least one party in opposition.
Such a strategic opportunity may come to benefit the People’s Party of Canada more than Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives, however. The populist energy of Bernier’s campaign was fuelled by a constituency that has rarely been given voice over the last eighteen months – Canadians who aspire to form a resistance movement against vaccine mandates and health restrictions across the country. Whether Bernier can tap that energy to broaden his platform and his appeal will be one of the few portents to watch closely over the lifespan of this next minority parliament which could stretch between 18 months to two years. The combative tone of all the parties during the campaign suggests it won’t be much longer.
Bernier, like NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, can be consoled that he has proven himself to be a presence on the national stage, despite his inability to win his old seat back in the Beauce. Among the thousands of converts to his party, he has shown he has renewed staying power, a quality that will likely be denied to Annamie Paul, the Leader of the Green Party, who finished fourth on the ballot in her riding of Toronto Centre.
Yet it is one of the bitter ironies of this campaign that the two leaders who earned the greatest share of the popular vote – Erin O’Toole and Justin Trudeau – cannot make that same claim with any degree of certainty.
O’Toole, despite growing his party’s popular vote, is sure to face some hard questions from those within his own party about his decision to run on a platform that attempted to claim the centre more convincingly than the Liberals. Over the course of the campaign, he appeared more vulnerable to contradictory positioning on some issues his base is passionate about – like firearms legislation, carbon pricing and childcare – and his early momentum plateaued. The public health crisis in Alberta and Premier Jason Kenney’s misjudged call to open the province for its “best summer ever” became a liability for O’Toole, as clips of the Conservative leader’s endorsement of the UCP’s management of the pandemic were reposted and retweeted to maximum effect by the Liberal campaign team. The Conservative leader’s bid to position himself as the steady hand on the tiller, charting a centrist route to government, floundered and could not summon any momentum in the campaign’s last days, and this has left him vulnerable to early rumblings about a leadership review.
Trudeau can hardly count on sunny ways either, though. The Prime Minister’s clarion calls for bold, visionary government that could transcend the grinding, tactical deliberations of a minority parliament rang false from the beginning of this campaign. Through the course of three debates, the perception that he had gambled on a majority became all but fixed in the minds of the electorate. It is likely that the political capital he has sacrificed, like the seats in so many ridings across this country, has yet to be fully counted. But with the loss of three cabinet ministers – fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan and rural economic development minister Maryam Monsef and likely seniors minister Deb Schulte – vote-splits across the country that have imperilled incumbents in his caucus like never before, he can claim nothing but a Pyrrhic victory.
Results (leading or won as of 9am Tuesday, September 21 with 18 seats still too close to call)
Elections Canada issued 1.2 million mail-in ballots to those who requested them and those will only be counted the day after the election and could be decisive in close contests in some ridings.
Getting Back to Work
The new government will swear in its updated cabinet in approximately two weeks – after all riding results are certified and it is clear who has been elected in each – and ministers will focus on getting briefed on their department’s priority issues and programs as well as staffing up their offices.
A number of key events will roll out over the months to come. Parliamentary secretaries and critics will be announced prior to the opening of Parliament, tentatively scheduled for Monday, October 18 but subject to the discretion of the incoming government which could see it delayed beyond that date. The election of the Speaker will be the first order of business on that day after which the government will present a Speech from the Throne setting out its agenda.
One can expect an update on the state of the economy in November which could include budgetary measures the government is eager to implement right away, including holdover commitments from its spring budget.
Parliamentary committees will be set up with their new membership and begin their work while the government moves forward with its legislative agenda.
Authored by: John Delacourt, Melissa Pasi, Kevin Bosch