Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ruling Liberals were reduced to a minority government and just 33% of the popular vote on October 21, down from 39.5% in 2015. With 170 seats needed to form a majority, they will hold 157 seats, down from 184 in 2015.
The Liberals lost seats in all regions, especially to a surging Bloc Québécois in Québec, which is devoted to the promotion of Québec sovereignty. Many Canadians believed that Liberal performance in government had fallen well short of the party’s progressive promises in the 2015 election. There was widespread disappointment that the Liberals had abandoned reform to alter the “first past the post” electoral system and failed to take decisive action to deal with climate change. The Liberals were also perceived to have been far too deferential to corporate and other elites.
The Conservatives made gains in the popular vote, up from 31.9% to 34.4%, actually winning the popular vote. They swept the three prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) by big margins and more or less held their own in Ontario despite a very unpopular, hard right provincial government. Their uninspired campaign with promises to cut taxes, including the national carbon tax, and to cut spending appealed only to their own base, and their near denial of climate change alienated many centrist voters.
Canada’s Social Democratic party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), won 16% of the vote and 24 seats, down from 19.7% and 44 seats in 2015, and well down from the 103 seats and 30.6% in 2011. However, this is enough to play an influential role in the next Parliament, especially given that the Liberals will likely not want to work too closely with the Bloc Québécois or the Conservatives and might rely on the NDP. The party’s losses were confined mainly to Quebec, where the party has now been reduced to a single seat, reversing the tidal wave of 2011 in that province under the leadership of Jack Layton.
Their uninspired campaign with promises to cut taxes, including the national carbon tax, and to cut spending appealed only to their own base, and their near denial of climate change alienated many centrist voters.
Most New Democrats will be disappointed, but also heartened by the results. The new NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, the first non-white person to lead a major party, had a rough start, and only recently won a seat in Parliament, fund-raising lagged badly before the election, and, with the Greens on the rise, it was widely predicted by pundits that the NDP could lose official party status.
In 2015 the NDP was widely seen to have positioned itself somewhere to the right of the Liberals, who campaigned against fiscal austerity and in favour of expanded social programs and serious action to deal with climate change. This time around, the party returned with enthusiasm to its Social Democratic roots.
The NDP campaigned for a Green New Deal to promote climate justice, an expansion of public health care (prescription drugs and dental care are largely outside the current system,) and construction of affordable rental housing, to be paid for by a major tax reform. One centre piece, taken from the playbook of US left Democrats Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren was a proposed 1% tax on wealth of more than $20 million.
Polls showed that the NDP did very well among young voters. For them, climate change, affordable housing and access to post-secondary education were the key issues. By contrast, the Conservatives and the Liberals both made tax cuts the centre piece of their campaigns and differed over very little except the national carbon tax and social tissues such as abortion rights.
This election confirmed the old adage that campaigns make a difference. Not only did the NDP vote rise from a low of about 12% at the start of the campaign to 16% in the result, but Singh ran an inspired campaign in which he showed both a good grasp of the issues, and a personality that appealed to voters and challenged racism in an effective way by appealing to voters’ better nature. He is now very popular among voters as a whole, and well placed to build from a fortified base.
The NDP managed to largely see off the rise of the Greens. They won just three seats and 6.5% of the vote.
Following this election, all parties will face the challenge of deep regional divisions. The Bloc Québécois is not calling for independence, but it is certainly a Québec first party. Meanwhile, the Liberals are almost absent from the prairie provinces. The NDP at least has some representation in all regions, which will add to its potential ability to influence the Liberal government agenda.