Trudeau wins narrow victory to form minority govt

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accompanied by his wife and children, votes in the federal election in Montreal.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accompanied by his wife and children, votes in the federal election in Montreal.PHOTO: REUTERS

Liberals secure power for second term despite criticism over handling of a judicial case and blackface scandal

OTTAWA • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won a second term in national elections, displaying once again a remarkable ability to overcome scandal and controversy to remain in power.

Mr Trudeau, 47, one of the world's most prominent progressive politicians, struggled to overcome the effects of two domestic scandals. His Liberals won only 157 seats, a decrease of 20, preliminary results showed.

Mr Andrew Scheer, leader of the opposition Conservatives, gained 24 seats, ending the night with 121.

The most likely partner for Mr Trudeau would be the pro-labour New Democratic Party (NDP).

While his minority position weakens his mandate, the result will nonetheless come as a relief for Mr Trudeau, who entered the campaign wounded by a scandal over his handling of a judicial case for a Quebec engineering firm, and revelations he wore "blackface" at least three times when he was younger.

Canadians "voted in favour of a progressive agenda and strong action on climate change," Mr Trudeau said in his victory speech in Montreal.

"I have heard you my friends, you are sending our Liberal team back to work, back to Ottawa with a clear mandate."

The second term allows the Liberal leader to cement one of the most left-leaning agendas the country has seen in at least a generation - progressive on social issues, willing to run deficits to tackle income disparities, assertive on climate change and fervently internationalist in an era of populism.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waving to the crowd after a victory speech in Montreal yesterday. He will lead a minority government that will be forced to depend on other parties to govern a seemingly divided Canada. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The push to the left would be accelerated if the Liberals are forced to team up with the NDP - an alliance that will produce some trepidation in Canada's energy sector, already saddled with reduced oil prices due to pipeline bottlenecks.

Mr Trudeau can also turn to other parties for support on a vote-by-vote basis.

Mr Scheer cast his result - raising his seat count by one-quarter from 2015 - as a victory and said the party would be ready to replace Mr Trudeau when he loses his grip on power.







When that would happen is not clear, as NDP leader Jagmeet Singh's party won enough seats to back Mr Trudeau in votes, and signalled a willingness to do so.

One potential flashpoint may be the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Alberta to a port near Vancouver.

Mr Trudeau's government bought the pipeline last year to save its expansion after the previous owner, Kinder Morgan, threatened to walk away. The NDP is anti-pipeline and wants more aggressive moves to combat climate change.

Yet, if history is any guide, the Liberals will need to make only moderate concessions to remain in power, without undermining the nation's finances or key economic objectives, which includes constructing the Trans Mountain expansion that the NDP opposes.

The average duration of the last three Canadian minority governments was almost two years.

"While there are some residual political uncertainties, we're not likely to see dramatic changes from the broad outlines of the Liberal platform, or for that matter, even from where policies were headed prior to the vote," Mr Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, said in a note to investors.

Still, Mr Trudeau will need to navigate carefully, following a result that represented an undeniable rebuke of his performance over the past four years, without altogether turfing him from power.

Mr Trudeau is also now overseeing a more divided nation than the one he inherited. The results exposed a stark regional split. There is also a deep fault line between rural Canada and the nation's biggest cities.

The Liberals relied heavily on big wins in Toronto and Montreal to stay in power, and are governing with hardly any districts outside of large cities and Atlantic Canada.

Mr Singh has said he will lay out six requests in exchange for his support in any minority parliament: A universal pharma care plan and national dental care, investments in affordable housing, waiving interest on student loans, a "bold" plan on climate change, a tax on wealth and a price cap on mobile phone bills.

Mr Trudeau's predecessor Stephen Harper governed through two minorities before finally winning a majority.

Mr Trudeau's father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, was cut down to a minority in his second mandate, before winning two more majorities over the course of his political career.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2019, with the headline 'Trudeau wins narrow victory to form minority govt'. Print Edition | Subscribe