Liberals return with minority government in Election 2019

By The Canadian Press
October 21, 2019 - 5:35pm

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau has emerged from a bruising 40-day election campaign with his image tarnished and his grip on power weakened, needing the support of at least one party to maintain a minority Liberal government in a country bitterly divided.

With results still trickling in early Tuesday, the Liberals had 156 seats — 14 short of the 170 needed for a majority in the 338-seat House of Commons.

Trudeau, whose Liberals entered the campaign with 177 seats, will need the support of either the NDP or the separatist Bloc Quebecois to command the confidence of the House of Commons, the first test of which will come within weeks on a throne speech to open a new session of Parliament.

Speaking to party faithful in Montreal, Trudeau asserted that the results give him "a clear mandate."

"(Canadians) rejected cuts and austerity and they voted in favour of a progressive agenda and strong action on climate change," he said.

But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, whose party boosted its seat count to 122 and won the popular vote nationwide by a slight margin, predicted the Liberal minority will be short-lived.

"Tonight, Conservatives have put Justin Trudeau on notice," Scheer told partisans at home in Regina. "Mr. Trudeau, when your government falls, Conservatives will be ready and we will win."

Co-operation with opposition parties is crucial for the survival of a minority government but it was in short supply early Tuesday as the leaders jockeyed for television time to address the nation. It's customary for leaders to take turns but Scheer began speaking before NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had finished addressing his supporters in Burnaby, B.C., and Trudeau took to the stage in Montreal before Scheer had uttered more than a few words.

Liberal hopes for a second consecutive majority were dashed by a resurgent Bloc, which scooped up 32 of Quebec's 78 seats.

Despite a strong campaign by Singh, his party took just 24 seats and was nearly wiped out in Quebec, the province that only eight years ago delivered an orange wave that propelled the NDP into official Opposition status for the first — and so far, only— time. Singh's tally fell almost 20 seats short of the party's haul in 2015, which was deemed bad enough by rank-and-file New Democrats to warrant firing leader Tom Mulcair.

Nevertheless, Monday's result leaves Singh potentially in the driver's seat, with New Democrats holding the balance of power.

And that could well exacerbate divisions that deepened over the course of the campaign and were reflected in the Liberals' being shut out entirely in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The two oil-producing provinces went almost solid blue, delivering every seat to the Conservatives except for Edmonton Strathcona — an NDP seat the party hung onto.

"With the rise of the separatist Bloc Quebecois and our dominant results in western Canada tonight, Canada is a country that is further divided," Scheer said.

"Big nation-building projects in major industries remain under attack, keeping thousands of Canadians out of work and holding back our nation's potential."

Trudeau can likely count on both the NDP and the Bloc, as well as the three Greens elected Monday, to support the Liberal carbon tax, which is reviled in Alberta and Saskatchewan and which Scheer had promised to repeal. Indeed, the three progressive opposition parties will probably push Trudeau to go further, faster in the fight against climate change.

However, Singh has signalled the NDP will fight plans to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline to carry Alberta oilsands crude to the British Columbia coast, en route to overseas markets. Trudeau's government purchased the pipeline for $4.5 billion to ensure the expansion project would proceed, a decision that cost the Liberals support among progressive voters but won him no thanks in Alberta.

Trudeau made a point of saying Liberals will govern for all Canadians, including those who didn't vote for them.

"To Canadians in Alberta and Saskatchewan, know that you are an essential part of our great country. I've heard your frustration and I want to be there to support you," he said.

"Let us all work hard to bring our country together."

Singh told his cheering supporters that New Democrats will fight for the priorities he spelled out during the campaign, during which he laid down six conditions for supporting a minority government: universal pharmacare, investments in affordable housing, interest-free student loans, ending subsidies for oil companies, introducing a "super wealth tax" and reducing cellphone bills.

"Canadians sent a pretty clear message ... that they want a government that works for them, not for the rich and the powerful," Singh said.

For his part, Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said his separatist contingent in the House — now more than triple in size — will co-operate with a minority government on an issue-by-issue basis. They'll support any initiative they deem good for Quebec and oppose any they deem harmful to the province.

The Liberals owe their minority win largely to Ontario. The country's largest province delivered 79 seats to the Liberals, compared to 36 for the Conservatives and just six for the NDP.

In Quebec, the Liberals were down five to 35 seats, just ahead of the Bloc Quebecois with 32. The Conservatives won 10 and the NDP just one.

The Liberals dominated in Atlantic Canada. Although they couldn't replicate the 2015 sweep of all 32 seats in the region, they took a respectable 26 seats, the Conservatives four, the NDP one. In something of a surprise, the Greens took one: Fredericton.

Five Liberal cabinet ministers in the Atlantic region held on: Newfoundland and Labrador's Seamus O'Regan, New Brunswick's Dominic LeBlanc and Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Nova Scotia's Bernadette Jordan and Prince Edward Island's Lawrence MacAulay.

Diane Lebouthillier in Quebec's Gaspesie-Les-Iles-de-la-Madeleine squeaked past the Bloc Quebecois's Guy Bernatchez. Fellow minister Jean-Yves Duclos eked out a win in his Quebec City riding.

Veteran Liberal Ralph Goodale, a stalwart of Liberal cabinets under three different prime ministers, went down in Regina, as did Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton.

The Green party, which had hoped for a big breakthrough in this election, had three seats, adding only the one in Fredericton to two it already had on Vancouver Island.

Maxime Bernier, who formed the People's Party of Canada after narrowly losing the Conservative leadership to Scheer, lost his own Quebec seat in Beauce.

Neither Trudeau nor Scheer seemed able to generate much enthusiasm throughout the campaign, which frequently devolved into mudslinging and misrepresentations of one another's policies and records.

Trudeau was embarrassed during the opening week of the campaign when it was revealed that he had at least three times in the past dressed up in black- or brownface. The revelation undercut his image as a champion of diversity and inclusion. He was also plagued with unsubstantiated rumours and fake reports, spread on social media, about his conduct as a teacher at a Vancouver private school.

The lingering cloud from last winter's SNC-Lavalin affair also hung over the Liberal campaign, casting doubt on Trudeau's ethics and his credentials as a feminist. His nemesis in that affair — former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould who quit cabinet amid allegations Trudeau and his officials had inappropriately pressured her to stop the prosecution of the Montreal engineering giant — succeeded late Monday in her attempt to win re-election as an independent in Vancouver-Granville.

Her former colleague, Jane Philpott, who quit cabinet in solidarity with Wilson-Raybould, went down to defeat in the Ontario riding of Markham-Stouffville.

Scheer was dogged throughout the campaign by questions about his personal beliefs about abortion and same-sex marriage and repeatedly insisted that he would not reopen debate on either issue should he become prime minister. However, doubt remained whether he would allow Conservative backbenchers to initiate legislation to restrict access to abortions.

Conservative fortunes in Ontario were dragged down by the unpopularity of Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford, whom Trudeau linked to Scheer at every opportunity.

And Conservative hopes in Quebec took a beating after Scheer put in what was widely considered a dismal performance in the first French-language leaders' debate. Scheer was also hit in the dying days of the campaign with reports that his party had hired an outside consulting firm to conduct a "seek and destroy" campaign against Bernier.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 21, 2019  

Joan Bryden , The Canadian Press

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