21.09.2021

Canada's 44th General Election | Aftermath and Opportunities

Opposition parties will continue to have control over Parliamentary Committees, and Liberals will continue to have challenges managing the House.

 

Note: There remain around 15 seats which remain relatively or very close at this time and could possibly change hands between now and when counting is scheduled to close Wednesday evening.

Election Aftermath

Throughout the spring and summer, the Liberal Party of Canada held a strong lead in public polling and Justin Trudeau was by far the top choice for prime minister, which prompted Trudeau to call an election in the hopes of winning the extra 15 seats he needed for Liberals to form a parliamentary majority.

Instead, the election resulted in a virtual status quo, with no party changing their standing by more than three seats. While there were some shifts in particular regions, with the Conservative Party winning a handful of seats from the Liberals in the Atlantic Region, and the Liberals and NDP winning a few seats from the Conservatives in Alberta and British Columbia. But when all totalled, these changes virtually cancelled each other out, leaving a result that largely disappointed all parties. With Liberals returned to a similar minority, PM Trudeau and his inner circle will be facing recriminations over the timing of the call, while speculation will quickly start around when the next election might take place. Based on Canada’s fixed election date law, if there is no snap election the next Election Day will be October 20, 2025.

Despite the status quo result, the dynamic of the House of Commons could prove to be a bit different. It is now less likely that the Trudeau government could be quite as aggressive towards the opposition parties in terms of using the kind of confrontational approach game-of-chicken we saw from him and the Liberals last spring. Opposition parties will continue to have control over Parliamentary Committees, and Liberals will continue to have challenges managing the House.

While the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) gained little, they still have a strong opportunity to push progressive proposals through the House as they continue to share the balance of power with the generally progressive Bloc Québécois, who remain the third largest party in the House of Commons. Action on issues like pharmacare, national standards for long-term care, and a wealth tax are likely the NDP’s top progressive policy issues.  

Conservatives will have some soul-searching over whether they continue to tack to the middle or possibly overcompensate by swinging back to the right – where some in the party will argue they lost votes and sacrificed seats due to the strong showing of the far-right People’s Party of Canada (PPC). The PPC are a new force in Canadian politics, with this being just their second election. This time around they were able to leverage anger about COVID lockdowns and vaccine mandates to grow their vote from 1.6% in 2019 to over 5% in 2021.

Opportunities in the new Parliament 

For groups looking to get an issue noticed, or a bill or policy adopted, the coming Parliament has several possible avenues. On the progressive side, the NDP and Bloc could both be useful on social democratic issues. Conservatives could be looking to show they can be a positive moderate force in the House, opening up further strategic opportunities on some issues, if leader Erin O’Toole survives a likely leadership challenge from within.

With no opposition party showing any real positive momentum from the result, the new Liberal government remain a strong minority with various political avenues open to them to ensure their survival for at least the next 18 to 24 months. The government will likely be looking to move forward on progressive issues that have opposition support. But the extent to which they continue to tack left politically will become clearer when their new cabinet is announced, and then when they deliver the Speech from the Throne on Parliament’s return.

There will also be opportunities to leverage relationships with the NDP to be heard on Parliament Hill through Committee studies or appearances.

Status of the Party Leaders

Justin Trudeau | Liberal Party

With another relatively strong minority government, Trudeau has given himself the opportunity to try and stick around as leader, if he wishes to do so.

While weakened – and there will certainly be questions asked after this result from both within and outside the party – Trudeau continues to have a strong hold over his party. There was already some talk about Trudeau possibly being replaced by Deputy PM and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, or former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney – so while Trudeau might still have a firm grip on the party, it remains to be seen if this result marks the return of the Liberal party’s infamous infighting in the months to come.

His victory speech struck a conciliatory note towards his critics and pledged to quickly get back to work on a progressive agenda. Liberal talking heads have been repeating that Trudeau was humbled and has learned from the result. But we will only know for sure in the weeks and months to come the extent to which he is really committed to fighting it out through another minority.

Erin O’Toole | Conservative Party

Even before the polls were closed, senior Conservatives involved in the campaign were already trying to lower the bar for what victory looked like last night, claiming that based on where he started, anything short of a Liberal majority was a victory. This was an attempt to start laying the groundwork for fighting back against the leadership challenges O’Toole’s team were expecting to face in the coming days, if not hours.

O’Toole’s victory speech stressed the incremental gains they made in some regions and made the case for the party continuing his strategy of trying to grow the Conservative tent, embracing diversity and moderate positions on social issues. Some right-wing elements were already out lobbying for the Conservatives to shift back towards the right on social issues to shore up that flank against the insurgent far-right People’s Party of Canada (PPC). While wining no seats, the PPC did secure substantial gains in the popular vote in a number of regions.

Jagmeet Singh | New Democratic Party

After running a strong and mostly mistake-free campaign, Jagmeet Singh ended the election as the most popular leader in Canada.  Now, with another minority government, small incremental gains, and with the NDP holding – alongside the Bloc – the balance of power, Singh is poised to remain a pivotal figure in Canadian politics.

Singh has also been able to consolidate his hold on the party. In fact, for the first time in a long-time, there was little mention of Jack Layton from the pundits as the results came in. While media will be asking about his continued leadership, there are no signs of any internal actions against him at this time. 

Annamie Paul | Green Party

Based on comments from former Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Paul is likely not long for the leadership. While there were losses in B.C. and N.B. and a very large drop on popular vote, the Greens still managed a surprise pick-up in Ontario. But losing her own race in Toronto, and after months of ugly infighting, most are expecting her to resign in the near future.

 

Ian Wayne is a strategic communications and research professional with decades of experience on the political frontlines.

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