Canadians Back Justin Trudeau, With Reservations

Canadians Back Justin Trudeau, With Reservations

15:44 - Liberals fall short of parliamentary majority in an election where voters weren’t enamored with their options

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fell short on his gambit of capturing a parliamentary majority in national elections and now faces demands from a left-wing rival party to shore up healthcare spending and raise taxes on the wealthy.

The preliminary results from Monday’s election indicate Canadians have reservations about the prime minister that include a record of ethical breaches and his decision to hold a snap vote during the Covid-19 pandemic. But the results also suggest voters weren’t enamored with Mr. Trudeau’s rivals, as opposition parties made no discernible gains relative to the 2019 election.

Preliminary figures as of Tuesday afternoon, with more than 98% of polls reporting, indicate Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party was leading in 158 electoral districts, short of the 170 needed for a majority in Parliament. The Conservative Party, led by Erin O’Toole, was running second with 119 seats. In the 2019 national vote, the Liberals won 157 seats and the Conservatives 121.

The country’s electoral commission, Elections Canada, said vote counting would likely be completed on Wednesday.

Even though the Liberals have secured re-election, a minority result represents a setback for the party that forces Mr. Trudeau to rely on another—perhaps the left-leaning New Democratic Party—to help implement a progressive agenda focused on expanded child care, affordable housing and climate change.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters Tuesday he is prepared to work with the Liberals on ensuring increased healthcare spending, higher taxes on wealthy Canadians and businesses, and support for workers hurt by the pandemic.

“Mr. Trudeau knows my priorities,” Mr. Singh said. “We are not looking for ways to force an election.” A spokesman for the Liberal Party didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Preliminary results show the NDP leading in 25 electoral districts, or enough to help the Liberals remain in power. The NDP won 24 seats in the 2019 election.

Polls show Mr. Trudeau’s popularity has waned even as his party has maintained solid approval ratings, with ethics scandals diminishing the 49-year-old prime minister’s support during his six years in power.

“Canadians like the Liberal policies on child care, on pandemic income support and climate change. But they don’t like Mr. Trudeau,” said Duane Bratt, a politics professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta.

Innovate Research Group, a Toronto polling firm, found in a poll before the election that 45% of respondents had either a very or somewhat unfavorable impression of Mr. Trudeau—the highest among leaders of Canada’s main political parties—versus 37% who held a very or somewhat favorable view of the prime minister.

Historical data from Nanos Research, an Ottawa-based pollster, suggest Mr. Trudeau’s standing as preferred prime minister has declined since his first year in office, when it was above 50%. Before Monday’s vote, it stood at 30%, down from the 40% range in early July.

Diane Gadient, an Ottawa resident, said she voted to oust Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals, citing his ethics lapses. She also voiced disapproval over the spending Mr. Trudeau deployed during the pandemic to stabilize the economy and help affected workers.

“They are giving away money left, right and center. The money doesn’t grow on trees,” Ms. Gadient said.

Morrie Berglas, a tech-company employee in Ottawa, said he backed the prime minister’s party. “I don’t think the Liberals have done that bad a job,” he said. “There’s nothing stellar, but it could be a lot worse.”

In Montreal early Tuesday morning, Mr. Trudeau said he was ready to fulfill his party’s promises and help end the Covid-19 pandemic’s hardship on households.

“The moment we face demands real, important change, and you have given this Parliament, this government, real direction,” he told supporters.

Mr. Trudeau called snap parliamentary elections halfway through his four-year term in mid-August, when the Liberals were riding high in polls following his handling of the pandemic. Mr. Trudeau invoked his powers to dissolve Parliament and call a vote, gambling that his party could win a majority.

Since the last election, in October 2019, Mr. Trudeau has led a minority government, requiring support from other parties to pass legislation. A majority in Monday’s election would have allowed Mr. Trudeau to enact his agenda on a partisan basis. It would also have given the Liberals control over parliamentary committees, whose probes into financial ties between the prime minister’s family and a youth charity, as well as alleged sexual misconduct among military leadership, have drawn criticism.

While Mr. Trudeau had framed the election as a pivotal moment for the country, his main political rivals and some voters said he was putting his political interests ahead of the public, which remains preoccupied with Covid-19. In a poll issued last week by Ipsos Global Public Affairs, over two-thirds of respondents said it was the wrong time to hold a snap vote.

Julia Maurik, a resident in Toronto’s west end, said Monday that the exercise was a waste of taxpayers’ money. “Everybody’s walking around with masks on, voting in a pandemic,” she said outside a polling site. “I’m not sure the country needs this.”

The prime minister acknowledged such criticism in his victory speech. “I hear you when you say that you just want to get back to the things you love, not worry about this pandemic or about an election, that you just want to know that your members of Parliament of all stripes will have your back through this crisis and beyond,” he said.

While Canadians have given Mr. Trudeau high marks for managing the pandemic, the election results show that “adequate pandemic management is no longer sufficient to win re-election in the post-Covid world,” said Daniel Béland, a political-science professor at Montreal’s McGill University.

Mr. O’Toole, the Conservative Party’s relatively new leader, had positioned himself as a moderate in the race, political analysts say. The former military officer and cabinet minister criticized Mr. Trudeau’s plans to require federal government employees to be fully vaccinated and for plane and train travelers to show proof of vaccination.

In a speech after television networks projected a Liberal victory, Mr. O’Toole said, “We will take stock of what worked and what didn’t, and we will continue to put in the time to show more Canadians that they are welcome in the Conservative Party of Canada.”

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