22 October 2019

Quick Take – Canadian Elections

Justin Trudeau has narrowly won a second term as Canada’s prime minister. His Liberal Party lost the handsome majority it won in 2015, squandering 27 seats in the 338-seat Parliament, mostly to the Conservatives and the separatist Bloc Québécois. Although Trudeau defied worst expectations, the prime minister faces a challenging political landscape. 

The election did not turn on issues of immigration and identity, but rather on Canada’s deep regional divisions. The Liberals failed to secure seats in Canada’s two westernmost oil-producing provinces, Saskatchewan and Alberta, where the Conservatives won all but one of the provinces’ 48 seats. In Quebec, Canada’s French-speaking province, the Bloc Québécois, a separatist party, more than tripled its seat-count from 10 to 32. 

The contrast with Trudeau’s 2015 landslide could not be starker. The “red wave” which saw voters flocking to Trudeau failed to materialise for a second time. The result also indicates a significantly weakened prime minister straining under multiple scandals.  

Trudeau’s main challenge will not be finding support for his policies in Parliament, but the risk that these policies widen regional chasms that that exist across the nation. So how does Trudeau bring together a divided nation? 

Like the minority governments before him, Trudeau must seek common ground on what seems like diametrically opposed issues – like the question of energy and the environment. This will require deft political manoeuvring and strategic political appointments. 

Some analysts contend that Trudeau should invite representatives from western provinces to sit at the cabinet table, which could be both symbolically and substantively valuable. But what is clear is that Trudeau can be neither glib nor claim to hold a monopoly over “progressive” votes – Trudeau must reach across the divide and find ways to collaborate more. 

In the end, this may be what Canada needs: the ability to converse, negotiate and compromise for the good of the whole nation. 

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