'Thank You, Canada,' Says Justin Trudeau, Wins A Third Term But Falls Short Of A Majority
Elections in Canada in 2021: It was unclear whether the Liberals had gained enough seats because polling stations were anticipated to submit results far into the morning.
Canadians have come home. According to broadcast network forecasts, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won a close election against a rookie conservative leader on Monday, but he did not win an outright majority. Last month, Trudeau announced a snap election, aiming to use a successful Covid-19 vaccine deployment (one of the finest in the world) into a new mandate to shepherd the country out of the pandemic and pass his programme without opposition support.
But after a bumpy five weeks of campaigning, his voice was raspy and he appeared set for a repeat of the close 2019 general election that resulted in the one-time golden boy of Canadian politics clinging to power yet weakened after losing his majority in parliament. "You (Canadians) are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get through this pandemic and into brighter days ahead," Trudeau said on stage at a victory gala, flanked by his wife Sophie Gregoire and their children.
He stated, "That is exactly what we are prepared to do." Trudeau has survived more difficult political battles at the age of 49.
His administration, though, is exhibiting symptoms of exhaustion after six years in power, and it was an uphill struggle for him to persuade Canadians to continue with his Liberals after falling short of the lofty expectations set in his 2015 landslide victory.
Trudeau 'lied to us'
Long lines outside polling places were witnessed by AFP journalists throughout the day in numerous major cities.
Douglas O'Hara, 73, who voted in Trudeau's Papineau electoral district in Montreal, said he was "extremely unhappy" with the prime minister earlier. Although he believes Trudeau performed a "half-decent job" controlling the epidemic, he recalls Trudeau promising not to vote until the outbreak had passed. "Then he calls an election as soon as he gets a chance (when) he thinks he'll gain a majority," O'Hara remarked. "I'm convinced he lied to us."
Kai Anderson, 25, said Canada's pandemic response was her "number one" concern in Ottawa."I think the prime minister did a good job managing the pandemic," she said. Liz Maier, 72, of Vancouver said she too hoped for a Trudeau win for "consistency in leadership" during the public health crisis.
Entering the final stretch of the contest, Liberals and Conservatives -- the two main political parties that have ruled Canada since its 1867 confederation -- were virtually tied, with about 31 per cent support each in public opinion polls, and four smaller factions nipping at their heels.
Pollster Tim Powers predicted a Liberal minority win, with network projections giving the Liberal 156 seats, little changed from the 155 they held going into the vote. "But is that a win for him?" he said, noting that Trudeau had hoped for more than just a plurality of seats.
"In the end, this election was ultimately for nothing," University of Winnipeg politics professor Felix Mathieu told AFP, pointing to the projected seat count for each party as being similar to the split in the last parliament, with most incumbents re-elected. In a concession speech, Conservative leader Erin O'Toole, 48, recalled Trudeau having pulled the plug on the last minority parliament he said was "unworkable." "But tonight Canadians did not give Mr. Trudeau the majority mandate he wanted," he said.
'Anti-vaxxer mobs,' China 'counterstrikes'
The candidates sparred on climate action, indigenous reconciliation, affordable housing, mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations, and vaccine passports during the campaign. Trudeau faced "anti-vaxxer mobs" during rallies, including one who flung stones at him.
Meanwhile, O'Toole was chastised for supporting Alberta's and two other Tory-led provinces' premature relaxing of public health rules, which has resulted in Covid outbreaks requiring their overburdened hospitals to fly patients across Canada for treatment. He also messed up on gun regulation and was cautioned by Beijing, according to Chinese state media, that taking a strong line against China, Canada's second-largest trading partner, would "welcome counterstrikes."
Overall, according to Max Cameron, a professor of politics at the University of British Columbia, "This election hasn't been particularly divisive. In fact, there's a lot of clustering in the middle." O'Toole, a relative unknown who became Tory leader only last year, had tracked his party to the political centre, forcing the Liberals to compete for votes on the left with the New Democrats and Greens, as well as the separatist Bloc Quebecois.
The Conservatives, however, also saw their support clawed by former foreign minister Maxime Bernier's far-right People's Party.