Canada’s unpopular general election of 20 September is increasingly recognised as a mistake by the country’s leading political analysts. However, this mistake could potentially prove to be the very undoing of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in future elections.
Sixty-nine per cent of Canadians did not think that holding an election during the fourth wave of the Covid pandemic was necessary. Officials and media analysts did not make much of public opinion polls at the time. Instead, they focused on two major issues: first, whether Trudeau’s Liberal Party would be able to galvanise on the popularity of his pandemic policies to win a decisive parliamentary majority of 170 in Ottawa’s House of Commons. The other issue is whether the new Conservative Party leader, Erin O’Toole, would succeed in galvanising the protest votes, coming mostly from Liberals and the New Democrats.
Yet, the outcome of the latest vote was almost identical to that of October 2019: Trudeau’s Liberals increased their presence by a single seat only, O’Toole’s Conservatives lost merely two seats, which were gained by Jagmeet Singh’s New Democratic Party. Meanwhile, the Green Party received another setback with the loss of one seat to return to Parliament with only two seats, while the People’s Party could not muster enough support for a single seat.
The question then – being asked across Canada – is what was the point of the elections? This question becomes even more relevant when we learn that this round of parliamentary elections was the most expensive in the history of Canada, estimated at nearly half a billion US dollars. Moreover, the timing was particularly inconsiderate as the pandemic continues to claim more lives and further damage the economy. Frivolous spending should never have been a priority on Trudeau’s agenda, but it was, and there was a reason for this.
In 2015, Trudeau managed to trample on the Conservative Party and their leader at the time, Steven Harper. The latter has done much damage to Canada, both internally – in terms of cuts on social services, racial harmony, etc. – and externally, by siding with conservative and populist governments in Washington and elsewhere.
Trudeau was the Canadian “saviour” who modelled his style and rhetoric on the likes of Tony Blair when he first arrived in British politics and Barack Obama, with his positive messaging of “hope” and “change”. Canadians, too, were swept away in that fervour, and Trudeau, along with the Liberal Party, raked in the rewards, winning the elections with an astounding 184 versus the Conservatives’ 99 seats.
Eventually, reality sank in. Though Trudeau remained relatively popular, his party conceded a significant number of seats in 2019, which were largely gained by the Conservatives.
Moreover, the electoral map of Canada, as far as the remaining parties are concerned, has also largely shifted. For example, in 2015, the New Democratic Party won 44 seats, while the Bloc Québécois won only ten. In 2019, the New Democrats lost nearly half of their gains, while the Bloc Québécois received a massive jump of 24 seats.
Trudeau’s Liberals have suffered several national crises in recent years, including sexual harassment complaints against a Liberal MP and allegations of corruption and misconduct. As per the standards of Canada’s relatively tame politics, these controversies would have been enough to turn the tables once more. The advent of the Covid pandemic, however, has extended a lifeline to Trudeau and his party, allowing the prime minister to pose, once more, as the saviour of Canada. A state of emergency caused by the pandemic has drowned out all other issues, as Canadians – like the rest of the world – remained largely focused on minimising casualties, while keeping the economy running.
On the other hand, the Conservatives were plotting a comeback. O’Toole, who ascended to the leadership of the party in August 2020, understood that, in order for the Conservatives to reclaim their position at the helm, they needed to update their positions on various issues, including climate change, the healthcare system and gun control, among others. Namely, O’Toole’s new Conservatives edged closer to Trudeau’s Liberals on issues that have long divided the country’s political elites.
With the positions of Canada’s two main rivals becoming nearly identical, at least rhetorically, Trudeau must have sensed that time will only serve the interests of the Conservatives, whose strategy was to slowly eat up at the Liberals’ parliamentary advantage. Trudeau wanted to destabilise the Conservatives’ new political agenda and cash in on the reported popularity of his government’s management of the pandemic. In the end, his achievements amounted to nothing or, to be more precise, only a single new seat in Parliament, certainly a distance away from enjoying a parliamentary majority.
Trudeau is still trying to put on a brave face, reassuring Canadians that they have: “Elected a government that will fight for you and deliver for you.” However, his humble victory shall prove a liability to the future of the Liberal Party and to that of Trudeau, personally.
It seems that the only urgency behind Canada’s early elections was the political interests of Liberals and their struggling leader. There was no major national cause or question that needed to be urgently confronted or addressed. However, a major cause now exists and will surely be used by all of Canada’s parties in their future fight to oust the Liberals, the cause being Trudeau’s wasteful spending for the sake of political and personal gains.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.