Canadians re-elect Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party

Toronto: Canadians gave Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party a victory in parliamentary elections, but his gamble to win a majority of seats appeared to have failed.

The Liberals were on track to win the most seats of any party.

The 49-year-old left-leaning Prime Minister channelled the star power of his father, the Liberal icon and late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, when he first won election in 2015 and now appears to have led his party to the top finish in two elections since. (Unlike in Australia, the Canadian Liberals are a left-wing party.)

The Liberals were leading in 148 ridings (electoral districts), the Conservatives in 103, the Quebec-based Bloc Québécois in 28 and the leftist New Democratic Party in 22.

It didn’t appear Trudeau would win enough seats to avoid having to rely on help from other parties to pass legislation. Trudeau entered the election leading a stable minority government that wasn’t under threat of being toppled.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau votes in Montreal, Quebec on Monday.Credit:The Canadian Press/AP

Trudeau bet Canadians didn’t want a Conservative government during a pandemic. Canada is now among the most fully vaccinated countries in the world and Trudeau’s government spent hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up the economy amid lockdowns and he argued that the Conservatives’ approach, which has been sceptical of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, would be dangerous and said Canadians needed a government that followed science.

The opposition was relentless in accusing Trudeau of calling an unnecessary early vote — two years before the deadline — for his own personal ambition.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole didn’t require his party’s candidates to be vaccinated and would not say how many were unvaccinated. O’Toole described vaccination as a personal health decision, but a growing number of vaccinated people are increasingly upset with those who refuse to get vaccinated.

Voters arrive at a polling station in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Monday.Credit:Bloomberg

Trudeau supports making vaccines mandatory for citizens to travel by air or rail, something the Conservatives oppose. And Trudeau has pointed out that Alberta, run by a Conservative provincial government, is in crisis.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, an ally of O’Toole, said the province might run out of beds and staff for intensive care units within days. Kenney apologised for the dire situation and is now reluctantly introducing a vaccine passport and imposing a mandatory work-from-home order two months after lifting nearly all restrictions.

A majority win would cement Trudeau’s legacy and leave him in power for another four years.

A Conservative win would have represented a rebuke of Trudeau against a politician with a fraction of his name recognition. O’Toole, 47, is a military veteran, former lawyer and a member of Parliament for nine years.

O’Toole advertised himself a year ago as a “true-blue Conservative.” He became Conservative Party leader with a pledge to “take back Canada”, but immediately started working to push the party toward the political centre.

O’Toole’s strategy, which included disavowing positions held dear by his party’s base on issues such as climate change, guns and balanced budgets, was designed to appeal to a broader cross-section of voters in a country that tends to be far more liberal than its southern neighbour. The son of a long-time politician has faced criticism he will say and do anything to get elected.

Erin O’Toole, leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, right, and his wife Rebecca O’Toole.Credit:Bloomberg

Whether moderate Canadians believed O’Toole is the progressive conservative he claims to be and whether he alienated traditional Conservatives became central questions of the campaign.

Adrian Archambault, a 53-year-old Vancouver resident, voted Liberal and said he didn’t mind the election was held during a pandemic. He noted provincial elections have also happened during the pandemic.

“Everybody has been so preoccupied with COVID the last few years it wasn’t maybe a bad thing to sort of do a re-check,” he said.

Trudeau’s legacy includes embracing immigration at a time when the US and other countries closed their doors. He also legalised cannabis nationwide and brought in a carbon tax to fight climate change. And he preserved a free trade deal with the US and Mexico amid threats by former US president Donald Trump to scrap it.

Former US president Barack Obama and ex-Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton tweeted support for Trudeau. There wasn’t a Trump endorsement of O’Toole. Conservative campaign co-chair Walied Soliman said there was no alignment whatsoever between O’Toole and Trumpism. Soliman said earlier in the day holding Trudeau to a minority government would be a win for O’Toole.

More to come

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