Liberal leader Justin Trudeau failed to win his majority government in the snap election he called – and experts say he will have to answer for that disappointing result in the coming days and weeks.
The election is estimated to cost taxpayers approximately $600 million. As of Tuesday morning, the Liberals’ seat share was projected to be roughly the same as two years earlier, with the Conservatives once again in official opposition and the NDP maintaining the balance of power.
The Liberals are also projected to win about 31 percent of the popular vote – one of the lowest vote shares for a winning party in Canadian history.
“It was pure pride,” said Nelson Wiseman, professor emeritus in political science at the University of Toronto.
“There was so much anger even before this election was called. But Trudeau saw a turnout that looked good to him and took that opportunity. And more people probably should have said, that it was a wrong move.”
Liberals entered the campaign with strong public support over their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but with equally skepticism over whether elections should be called before the pandemic is under control.
Although a majority of voters polled by Ipsos in April said it was important to hold an election to have their say on Trudeau’s government, 57 percent felt such a vote would not be appropriate because of health and safety issues, compared to 54 percent. said. would be unsafe.
As the campaign progressed, voter anger over the election grew – some pollers said they had never seen before – while support for the Liberals fell to a dead heat from a five-point lead over the Tories.
Ipsos found early in the campaign that Trudeau was most likely to have a hidden agenda as party leader, while his overall approval rating fell below 50 percent for the first time since the pandemic began last year. That approval never rose above water before election day.
Wiseman says Trudeau was benefiting from staying at Canadians’ homes almost every day with updates from the federal government during the pandemic.
Once the election was called, opposition leaders were able to grab some of that airtime, reducing Trudeau’s influence.
Alan Tupper, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, says Trudeau miscalculated how well his pre-election appeal would work in a campaign when voters were focused on their health and safety.
“The Liberals certainly tried to make the case that they were the ones who could lead through a changing world, a changing country. And I think they guessed a little bit wrong,” he said.
Tupper said Trudeau would have seen provincial elections held during the pandemic in which some governments won strong mandates – notably in British Columbia and New Brunswick – and thought liberals might do the same.
“But in those cases, (provincial elections) were held during relatively quiet times during the pandemic,” he said. “This time it’s looking different.”
A Liberal campaign source speaking on the background pushed back any claims that the party’s decision to call the election was wrong, or that they wronged how voters felt.
The source said the Liberals were able to highlight the flaws in the Conservative and NDP plans by framing this election as “a choice” on how to respond to the next phase of the pandemic and beyond.
Any result, the source said, would be acceptable to the party because it would “show the will of the Canadian people.”
The former Liberal strategist, Greg McEchern, also insisted that party staff at the campaign headquarters in Montreal were “very happy”.
“(Party employees) were seeing more conservative numbers, so they were expecting (fewer seats),” he said. “So from a Liberal campaign point of view, they are very pleased.”
MacEchern admitted that he was “surprised” by how long public anger against the election lasted in polls and interviews.
As far as the potential for Trudeau to face calls to step down as leader after failing to build liberal support, experts and liberals alike said that was unlikely to happen. .
“I think it’s wrong for parties to be in the mindset of throwing out a leader immediately if they don’t get the result they want,” Tupper said.
While he said he understood the arguments in favor of Trudeau stepping aside, “I don’t see any compelling reason for Trudeau to leave.”
MacEchern pointed to the moment in the French debate where Trudeau pointed to Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s discrepancies on the subject of gun control, which led to repeated questions about O’Toole’s stance.
“I think it gave traction to the Liberal campaign where they were able to get out of the unnecessary election talk,” he said.
“There’s no one else you can give credit for. No ads, no cryptic tweets, the prime minister was in that debate. And I think he has a lot to offer for this campaign.”