Another minority government. Now what?
OTTAWA -- When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the 2021 federal election, he said it was because he thought Canadians should have their say about where the country is going. Well, voters have spoken, and it’s another minority Liberal government.
With an almost identical House of Commons heading to Ottawa in terms of seat distribution, are Canadians in for more of the same? Or, could the outcome of this election result in consequential political changes, with leaders now facing post-election questions about their futures?
Here’s where things stand on the day after the 44th General Election.
As of 4:30 p.m. EDT, CTV News’ Decision Desk has the Liberals leading and elected in 158 ridings, the Conservatives in 119 ridings, the Bloc Quebecois in 34, the NDP in 25, and the Greens in two.
Heading into this race the Liberals held 155 seats, the Conservatives held 119, the Bloc Quebecois 32, the NDP 24, the Green Party had two, and there were five Independent MPs and one vacancy.
All told, should the current seat count hold that means:
- The Liberals have gained two seats, as one elected MP under the party banner will be sitting as an independent;
- The Conservatives did not pick up more seats despite winning the popular vote and defeating a trio of cabinet ministers in part due to the People’s Party of Canada pulling support away;
- The Bloc may end up two seats ahead of where they were last month while the NDP are largely in the same spot, perhaps one seat ahead depending on outstanding too-close-to-call races; and
- While the Greens will be returning the same number of MPs, this time one of them is from Ontario and it’s not Green Leader Annamie Paul.
“It was a bit like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, you know when he wakes up and smashes his alarm clock and finds out, it's the same day again? I think perhaps today there's some Canadians who are smashing their alarm clock, because the results look very similar to the 2019 election,” said CTV News’ official pollster and Founder of Nanos Research, Nik Nanos on CTV News Channel on Tuesday morning.
Next steps in terms of getting the 44th Parliament up and running will include Trudeau appointing a new cabinet, the House of Commons electing a Speaker and determining the parameters of returning to Parliament in a fourth wave, and then presenting a Throne Speech.
While these are some of the certainties of the post-election phase, potentially consequential uncertainties remain.
Will this be Trudeau's last election?
Trudeau took a gamble hoping to cash in on Canadians’ positive sentiments for the Liberals’ handling of the COVID-19 crisis and vaccine rollout when he called the federal election on Aug. 15.
In doing so, he pulled the plug two years into his first minority government, sending Canadians to the polls in a costly federal vote, while putting on the line some key policy proposals like childcare that could have gone up in smoke had the outcome been different, in hopes of being rewarded with a relatively unchallenged four year majority reign.
Now, the Liberals will once again have to find dance partners in other opposition parties—most likely the Bloc and NDP— to pass key legislation and stay afloat.
Despite being in largely the same place electorally as they were before the campaign kicked off, Trudeau suggested in his victory speech on election night that what Canadians have sent him back to Ottawa with was a “clear mandate.”
“I hear you when you say that you just want to get back to the things you love, not worry about this pandemic, or about an election. That you just want to know that your members of Parliament of all stripes will have your back through this crisis, and beyond,” he said.
While he does not currently have a post-election media availability scheduled, once he does come before a microphone Trudeau will likely have to address the outcome, and speak to questions he dodged leading up to election day as to whether this election will be his last as leader.
“Ultimately, the decision comes down to him. The party bylaws allow him to continue to [lead], whereas the other parties all have leadership reviews coming up for not winning government. So it's really his decision where he wants to take his legacy, right? Whether it's a year, two years, or four years and takes it to the next election,” said Liberal strategist and 2019 Liberal election staffer Muhammad Ali in an interview on CTV News Channel on Tuesday.
“He has a lot of work ahead of him, so I think that's where his focus is on right now, and not on whether he's going to stay on as prime minister or not.”
O'Toole triggers 'post-election review'
Despite high hopes from supporters who were buoyed by competitive polling numbers throughout the campaign, O’Toole did not deliver on his promise to pick up seats across the country after running as a more progressive leader than he presented himself to be during his 2020 leadership race.
“The Conservatives overall were a wash. They picked up in Atlantic Canada and then lost in other regions,” said Nanos.
Will he now be facing a challenge to his continued leadership, as his predecessor Andrew Scheer faced after a similar election outcome in 2019? In his speech on election night, O’Toole spoke about being the leader to take on the Liberals whenever the next election may come, but that decision will likely ultimately be made by party membership.
- Full transcript: Erin O'Toole applauds Conservative gains in his speech, says there's more work to do
On Tuesday, O’Toole said he was disappointed by the outcome but didn’t speak to the rumblings about his leadership.
Instead, he announced that he has initiated a “post-election review to examine what went right, what went wrong, and what we can do better to win in 18 months,” referring to a suggestion that Trudeau’s next snap election call may be just around the corner.
Going forward, Nanos said that: “There’s going to need to be some soul searching,” within the party.
“Is the party socially conservative or socially progressive? What's the future of the party, and how are they going to manage the People's Party of Canada?” Nanos said.
Conservative strategist and former member of Andrew Scheer’s 2019 election campaign communications team, Jamie Ellerton, said O’Toole’s has a shot at staying at the helm, but some key things will have to fall into place in the coming days and weeks.
“If you do not see other prominent caucus members coming out and talking vigorously in defence of the leader, that's sign number one that Erin O'Toole is in trouble. Number two is, I think, Erin needs to kind of learn some of the mistakes of what Andrew Scheer did last time, and actually have a real accounting for what went wrong with this campaign and level with Canadians and the party specifically as to how he's going to fix those issues going forward,” he said.
Will New Democrats stick with Leader Jagmeet Singh?
Running a diverse candidate roster, the party hoped to win more seats than it did in 2019 when it was dealt a major blow, losing 20 of the 44 seats it previously held. It was the party’s worst showing in more than a decade, but still the party stuck with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
Now, the party is in relatively the same spot despite having far more name recognition, an aggressive social media strategy, and after campaigning hard on what New Democrats were able to negotiate in the last minority Parliament.
Asked what he thinks went wrong during a Tuesday morning press conference, Singh said he was proud of his showing, and indicated he isn’t worried New Democrats would be looking for a new leader.
In contrast, NDP members voted against former leader Tom Mulcair following his 2015 election showing, which had the party hold nearly twice as many seats. Asked why Singh remains so confident, he said it was because he ran a campaign that “our party and our members are really proud of.”
“We're not looking for ways to force an election, we think that's not the goal, and Canadians sent us a clear message, they want us to continue working. They want us to get back to work,” Singh said.
“Despite our number, we were the most successful opposition party in the last Parliament, and this Parliament looks pretty much the same.”
On CTV News Channel, NDP strategist and former B.C. NDP senior executive Nikki Hill suggested that “nobody’s talking” about ditching Singh as leader.
And, will the country be forced to do this all again before too long?
Minority governments can be unpredictable. While the next fixed election date isn’t for another four years, as has just been witnessed, typically minority governments don’t last more than two years. Whether the governing party triggers another vote, or they are brought down on a confidence vote, there’s a chance Canadians could be heading back to the polls before too long.
How soon that could happen is very much an open question.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Party standings can fluctuate. If a member is removed from caucus for one reason or another, crosses the floor, resigns their seat, or dies, then the balance of who holds the firmest grip on power could evolve over time;
- The prospect of avoiding another pandemic election may continue to be a motivating factor for the opposition parties to prop up the Liberals; and
- If there are leadership changes afoot, or parties are tapped out financially, they may not be in a position to go back to the polls on strong footing, incentivizing the need to make the minority Parliament work.