A $600 million federal election later, we’re back to where we started

Politics Insider for Sept. 21, 2021: Trudeau maintains his grip; O’Toole has some problems; and Legault is stymied

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After $600 million, six weeks, 150 polls, three debates, a handful of gravel thrown in anger, long lineups and 13,513,848 votes, we end up awfully close to where we were when we started—a Liberal minority.

Grim: Writing in Maclean’s, Shannon Proudfoot observes that it was an election that disappointed everyone.

It was, in perhaps the most grizzled and depressing way, a very grown-up campaign well-suited to an exhausted world that still cannot be rightly called post-pandemic. There were no starry eyes here, no thought that better is possible, no crowds surging on a wave of hope that maybe this time would be different. This was the election version of a marriage of convenience: grim, but gets the job done.

Still, a win’s a win: Paul Wells points out, though, that a win is a win, and Trudeau has a better season ahead than Erin O’Toole.

In 2019 I dared hope that Justin Trudeau, returned to power with a smaller mandate, would take the lesson seriously and change the way he worked and imagined government. He didn’t. He won’t now either. He doesn’t have it in him. He’ll let his staff run every minister’s office through staffers sent by the PMO, bottleneck every decision, sideline skeptics. Maybe it’ll work better the fourth time his party seeks the voters’ favour than it did the second and third. I mean… maybe? But a win is a win. Trudeau’s problems now are the problems of power. He gets to implement a national daycare network, triple the federal carbon tax and the rebates that go with it, have some awkward chats with the families of Polytechnique victims and with—hoo boy—Joe Biden, watch for at least a year as the same Parliamentary committees that were controlled by the opposition continue to be controlled by the opposition.

Frankly, these problems are fantastic compared to the problems Erin O’Toole will face. The Conservative leader is—as I write this based on shaky early returns that will probably change—up about two points of popular vote in Ontario and four in Quebec over Andrew Scheer’s 2019 result. That’s after grabbing starkly more centrist positions on climate, firearms, same-sex rights and public finances than Scheer did.

Legault stymied? Justin Ling surveys the landscape in Quebec, and observes that Francois Legault is among the people who did not get what they wanted last night.

The results are a clear sign that there are limits to Legault’s popularity. While Quebecers may broadly support his approach to the pandemic, that’s no guarantee his sky-high support will remain there. More broadly, the results may suggest that Quebecers remain unimpressed with the mating ritual being displayed by the party leaders.

Kenney and Bernier: A key part of the election was the struggle for Prairie votes, where Jason Kenney kneecapped the Tories and a Quebecer ended up playing spoiler, Jason Markusoff writes. Although Maxime Bernier didn’t win any seats, his party changed the race.

The People’s Party came nowhere near winning anywhere, but did push past 10 per cent of the vote in some Western and rural Ontario ridings. And in contests dotted throughout the country—tight races settled by far less than five percentage points—those votes helped play spoiler to potential Conservative wins. Places like Cambridge and Niagara Centre in Ontario; South Okanagan-West Kootenay in B.C.; and, potentially, in Alberta’s own Edmonton Centre. In his speech, Bernier treated his surge from five per cent of the Canadian popular vote (from one per cent in 2019) as a victory of sorts, a sign that his movement has a future. In the Calgary speech on the weekend, he tipped his hand that his primary intention is to create a protest movement rather than a constructive political one. “I will be with you in the streets to protest, to fight, fight for freedom,” he said.

Personnel changes: It was a night of  exits and entrances. Gone are Liberals Bernadette Jordan (fisheries minister),  Maryam Monsef (minister of rural economic development), Lenore Zann and Scott Simms. Liberals Yasir Naqvi and George Chahal are new faces, as are Green Mike Morrice and Conservative Melissa Lantsman. CTV has a rundown of winners and losers, although it will take a few days to sort out, given all the close races and the delay while we wait for Elections Canada to count mail-in ballots.

No seat for Paul: It was tough night for besieged Green leader Annamie Paul, who came fourth in her riding, CBC reports.

Lost bet: In La Presse, Paul Journet has a scathing column (translation), calling it a losers’ election.

What were these elections used for? Nothing. Aside from wasting $600 million, politicizing the vaccination campaign and dividing the country even further. The numbers are practically the same. All that has changed are some faces. Including that of Justin Trudeau, who smiles less. He retains power, but loses his bet.

Relieved Liberals: In a column in the Star, Susan Delacourt isn’t as downbeat, but she observes it is a “complicated saga.”

As far as I can tell, Trudeau did not do much consulting when deciding to spring this election on the country and some Liberals will be arguing—correctly—that this all-too-close election happened because voices of dissent on a summer election were discounted or not heard at all. It all says that Trudeau and his team have every right to be relieved, but not triumphal.

Whither O’Toole? In the Post, John Ivison writes that Trudeau held “an opportunistic election in the middle of a pandemic,” but notes the potential for trouble ahead for O’Toole.

The Conservatives prepared the ground for defeat in an extraordinary intervention by campaign chair Walied Soliman, on election day, when he told the Toronto Star that holding Trudeau to a minority would be a win. Given polling that had the Tories hitting record lows over the summer, it is an understandable impulse. But saying it while the polls were still open and there was still the prospect of an upset, was highly unusual. Soliman’s comments speak to the lack of job security for any modern Conservative leader who loses, but especially one who was elected by only one-third of the party members in the last leadership contest.

For the record: What did the leaders say after the results were in? Read our transcripts of last night speeches:

Erin O’Toole: ‘I will never stop serving this great country’

Jagmeet Singh: ‘We are going to fight for you with everything we have’

Justin Trudeau: ‘Our government is ready’

Later today: For more post-election analysis, tune to our next Twitter Space at 2 p.m., featuring a cast of Maclean’s writers and contributors.

— Stephen Maher

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