Canada’s 44th general election was like a game of tug of war in which the rope won. While the Conservatives and Liberals traded the lead back and forth, neither side inspired the country all that much. Electoral support was divided among six parties, five of which won seats. With electoral results that look like a bag of Skittles, the country continues to force a multiparty reality into an electoral system best designed for two parties. That reality further highlights the fact that small swings in Canada’s first-past-the-post system can mean big changes.
Drawing grand conclusions that would flip on the whim of a small percentage point shift here or there isn’t particularly productive or honest, but that won’t stop pundits and partisans from trying. For instance, in 2015, Trudeau won his majority with 39.5 percent, beating Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, who won 32 percent — roughly the amount of support Liberals earned this time around. Not exactly a revolutionary swing. But we do have some reasonable conclusions to draw.
Despite winning the popular vote, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole didn’t grow the party’s seat count by much, if at all, and he may even end up losing seats; he’ll face challenges from within his party. The New Democratic Party looks to have added a seat or two, but that won’t change much for them or anyone else. The Green Party saw their vote share collapse and may lose their leader over it. The Bloc Québécois is close to its 2019 returns and it will never form a government anyway. The far-right People’s Party of Canada didn’t win a seat, thank God, but its support went from less than 2 percent last time to about 5 percent this time, undermining the Conservative Party’s efforts. This unnecessary election served to platform extremists at the worst time possible but also helped to extend the Liberals a lifeline.
So, really, what was all this for? The Liberals are hovering around 32 percent of the popular vote as final ballots are counted. That’s less than the Conservatives, who are at about 34 percent. Voter turnout looks likely to come in around the low 60s. That means roughly one in five eligible voters cast a ballot for the governing side — and four in five didn’t. The Liberals launched an election because they wanted a majority government and saw a chance to win it. It was as simple as that. If they’d been governing with a majority, there would have been no election. Instead, however, the country returned its fifth minority government in the past seven elections.
In October of 2019, I wrote that Canada had gone from “Trudeaumania” — the euphoric 2015 return of the Liberals with a majority government — to “Trudeau-meh-nia.” Trudeau’s favorability has been declining further, which is typical for a politician who has been governing for years, and the Liberal Party’s inability to return a majority suggests the prime minister has hit a ceiling. It would be a surprise if Trudeau stayed on until the next election.
The return of the Liberals may mean good things for a $10-a-day child-care plan for millions of families and continued, if inadequate progress on climate policy, but the election was an opportunity wasted. If ever there was a time to discuss radical, structural change to address the causes of inequality, climate change, colonialism, racism and exploitation, it was now. But the parties never went in for it. Instead, they decided, implicitly at least, to run safe, uninspired campaigns that blended technocratic mediocrity with market orthodoxy and the occasional offering to prop up an unsustainable system that’s looking more tenuous by the day.
Sometimes things happen and no one really wins. Things don’t improve. There are few or no saving graces or silver linings. There’s just the cold, hard reality of what has happened and what did not and what comes next. At least now Canada’s politicians can get back to work — what they should have been doing all along — as the country returns to paying even less attention to politics than it did before. Until the next time.