Canadian Liberals win Federal Election, but lose majority

The Liberal Party of Canada have beaten the Conservatives in the Federal Election but have lost their majority in ‘the Hill’.

The Liberals won 157 seats (down 20), with the Conservatives trailing behind on 121. It was a good night for the separatist Bloc Quebecois (BQ), who won 32 seats in the region (up from 10 in 2015), while the NDP were pushed into fourth after losing nearly half of their seats. The Green Party trebled their numbers in the house to three.

The real story is that the Liberals actually lost the popular vote to the Conservatives and shed nearly 1.3 million votes on 2015. By narrowly winning ‘ridings’ in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, the Liberals have just about squeezed their way on top.

It’s been a long 40-day campaign for the Liberals who have endured pressure from the Conservative machine, revelations about Trudeau’s ‘Blackface’ past, and a resurgent separatist movement in their Quebec heartlands.

After winning an outright majority in 2015, Trudeau had an easy ride in passing most of his manifesto (a credible 92% of his manifesto promises kept), but now needs to use all of his political skill to maintain power.

 So, what happens next?

Similar to what Johnson is facing in Westminster, its very difficult to pass any legislation as a minority, and so Trudeau will need to reach out across the House.

Being thirteen short of a majority means that he now needs to work with other parties. It has happened before in Canada, and worked successfully, but the divide between the parties now mean that its less easy to maintain control without the numbers. Trudeau’s father, Pierre, faced a similar challenge in the early 1970s when he lost a majority in 1972, but went on to win a majority again two years later.

The numbers mean that the Liberals could form a coalition with the NDP for a majority. There is plenty of common ground between the two, and after taking such a hit in these elections, the NDP will be looking to claw back credibility. Whether this happens or not is anyone’s guess this early-on, but NDP leader, Jasmeet Singh, did mention the possibility of a coalition between the two parties on the campaign trail.

The next few days and weeks will be challenging for Trudeau as he works out where to go from here.

* Jonathan is a Lib Dem member in Bath. He studied European Politics at the University of Exeter and now works for a sustainability consultancy.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Marriott 22nd Oct '19 - 11:13am

    I remember Pierre Trudeau’s unexpected victory over Progressive Conservative Robert Stanfield very well. My wife and I were living and working in Alberta at the time and had just witnessed the thrilling comeback of the Canadian professional ice hockey team in the eight match ‘Summit’ series against the ‘state amateurs’ of the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. It was the first time that east had met west in this clash of sporting styles, which mirrored the clash in political ideologies. After a poor start (most people in North America thought that the pro’s would wipe the floor with the commies) the rough and tumble style of the Canadians won through, but only just.

    I remember Trudeau Senior comparing the Liberal Party’s victory to that of the nation’s ‘Hockey’ team, with words to the effect of “They won by a great team effort – and so did we!”

    As far as his son is concerned, I can’t help but compare him with Prince Harry. Both are the products of an unhappy marriage, both have a bit of a ‘past’, which they cannot seem to shake off, despite all the good things they have done and are still trying to do.

  • Terrible result – having fewer votes and more seats, having non-proportional seats. Canada, like us, should have proportional representation

  • James Kenyon 22nd Oct '19 - 1:42pm

    @John Marriott, the 70s must have been a fascinating time to have lived in Canada. Pierre T was a true radical, unfortunately Justin does not have a terribly liberal record himself, particularly when it comes to the environment.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Oct '19 - 3:46pm

    A leader of the Tories in Canada modelled herself on Margaret Thatcher in a federal election under First Past The Post. She emerged with two seats divided equally between male MP/s and female MP/s.
    The Canadian Liberals should legislate for electoral reform, with a coalition partner, and hopefully with the support of others inside and outside the Canadian parliament.
    The most democratic method is the Single Transferable Vote, which offers electors maximum choice for their preferences.

  • @Paul Weaver

    Indeed, Canada has a FPTP system. A system Justin Trudeau pledged to change to a proportional one 4 years ago prior to his election. A pledge he abandoned on coming to office.

    I’ve never been a fan of Trudeau. All virtue and no substance

  • John Marriott 22nd Oct '19 - 6:13pm

    @James Kenyon
    They certainly were, James. My wife and I arrived in Edmonton in July 1970 at the fag end of thirty plus years of Social Credit provincial government about to be kicked out by Peter Lougheed’s conservatives.

    Three years spent on the Prairies viewing events back home (the Heath government’s rush for growth, the Barber Boom, house price inflation, Common Market, industrial unrest) really changed my perception of how the rest of the world viewed the UK. It certainly changed my life.

  • Geoffrey Payne 22nd Oct '19 - 7:11pm

    It is good news that the Canadian Liberals are the largest party and will continue to govern. They are lucky to have more seats with less votes than the Tories. If the NDP force the Liberals to support a fair voting system and scrap the Keystone pipeline then that would be an improvement.

  • James Pugh – but he is very charismatic, more than Kennedy, Clegg and Swinson combined (Clegg and Kennedy at their peak never managed to create a cult of personality like he is doing). Our party generally lacks a charismatic figure like him. Vince has strong intellectual gravita but is more like boring “angry” Vince (like Tom Mulcair you know), while Tim Farron lacks both. Clegg is quite charismatic but not really a heavyweight, although with more substance than JT. I mean, a political leader like John Kennedy and Barack Obama is very rare.

    “A system Justin Trudeau pledged to change to a proportional one 4 years ago prior to his election. A pledge he abandoned on coming to office” – to be honest, he only made a half-arse promise of abolishing FPTP without mentioning the specific alternative (according to his party platform), which means AV, which would specifically benefit his party, could be an option as well.

    James Kenyon – “Justin does not have a terribly liberal record himself, particularly when it comes to the environment.” – agree with you regarding his environmental records. OTOH, his economic policy, trade policy and poverty reduction records are rock solid.

  • John Marriott 23rd Oct '19 - 7:04am

    The Liberal Party of Canada, while being slightly to the left of the Progressive Conservatives, is Liberal in name only. Don’t forget, we’re talking North America here. As Mr Spock might have said; “It’s Liberal, Jim, but not as we know it”.

  • John Marriott – “The Liberal Party of Canada, while being slightly to the left of the Progressive Conservatives, is Liberal in name only. Don’t forget, we’re talking North America here. As Mr Spock might have said; “It’s Liberal, Jim, but not as we know it”.” – that’s true for the Blue Liberals like Paul Martin and Jean Chretien, but under Justin Trudeau the Canadian Liberals are clearly on the left of, for example, Nick Clegg and the Orange Bookers. Also, if you talk in North American context, it’s like saying the Democrats are liberal in name only.

    Also, you know what, if you present his immigration policy in the British House of Common, everyone will boo you off the room.

  • Anyone here still remember Trudeau’s shock victory 5 years ago? I mean, the NDP at that time was leading the poll well into the campaign period, but by mid-October the Liberals surged. As far as I know, it was because Trudeau managed to flank Mulcair and the NDP from the left, by promising deficit spending (there was a recession in Canada in 2015 caused by falling oil prices).

    I mean, Trudeau’s upset victory made me wonder, what if Clegg and his Orange Bookers never gained control of the party, and we ended up running from the left of Gordon Brown in 2010 instead of trying to put ourselves at the centre, between Brown and Cameron?

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Oct '19 - 10:34am
  • Dennis Wake 23rd Oct '19 - 2:03pm

    The Progressive Conservatives dissolved themselves in 2003 after merging with the Canadian Alliance to form the Conservative Party although the title is still used by many provincial Conservatives.
    As the Conservatives gained the largest share of the vote presumably their leader would have been asked to form the next government if Canada had proportional representation so maybe Trudeau was wise not to adopt it from his point of view. The Greens seemed to have gained as many votes as the NDP lost but only gained one extra seat while the NDP lost 20 and the Liberals 27 since the previous election.

  • Dennis Wake – or he is too short-sighted. Assume that the Liberals continue to be the main party, PR in Canada will permanently shut the Tories out of the government, because the combined progressive votes massively outnumber the conservatives. A party that is more right-wing than Red Toryism will not form a government again, because nobody will join the Reform-style right-wingers to form the government.

    Another positive side-effect: PR will put the BQ down and out.

  • Dennis Wake 23rd Oct '19 - 4:43pm

    Thomas: Why will PR put the BQ down and out ? – it got 7.7% of the votes = 26 seats, more than the Greens who got 6.50% = 22 seats.
    In the past the Conservatives got over 50% and they might do it again – would it be wise to have a permanent Liberal Government. I am sure people would eventually want a change.

  • Having family in Toronto you get a bit of inside thinking away from the media.
    Certainly one big plus for them was Trudeau’s reversal of the Tory increase in state pension age, back to 60, I think.
    This possibly helped to avoid the NDP staging a comeback in key seats in the greater Toronto area.
    On the other hand us here in government increasing the pensionable age was one of the big coalition mistakes we made.

  • Dennis Wake – under PR, the BQ will simply no longer hold the balance of power. Liberal + NDP + Greens will hold the majority of votes AND seats.

    “In the past the Conservatives got over 50% and they might do it again – would it be wise to have a permanent Liberal Government. I am sure people would eventually want a change.” – the current Conservatives are no longer Red Tories. They are the hard right-wing Reform/Blue Tories, and Canadian overton window is going to swing to the left not the right for the years to come. You know, if we use American terms, the Canadian Millennials outside of Alberta/Saskatchewan are basically the equivalent of American Greatest Generation 2.0 (the ones who lived during the FDR era). Then throw climate change into the mess. You are not going to win Eastern Canada and BC with a right-wing social conservative + anti-climate action platform (Scheer is going to stay on after this).
    Look, they are on track to become a Alberta/Prairie regional party.

  • Andy Hyde – “On the other hand us here in government increasing the pensionable age was one of the big coalition mistakes we made.” – sorry Andy, this is just a drop into the ocean. The first and biggest mistake, as I mentioned above, were letting Clegg and his right-wing Orange Book cohorts taking over the party, leading to the fact that we ran from the right of Centrist-Blairite Gordon Brown (the whole “radical centrism” lol) instead of from the left. Trudeau pulled off his shock upset victory in 2015 by outflanking the NDP from the left (by promising deficit spending actually), not by placing himself in between and thus getting squeezed. I already discussed that election above.

    The second mistake was the decision to go into Coalition, which made us (not entirely wrong) look like a bunch of sell-outs no matter what happened. It was driven by naivety and lack of patience btw. We could have stayed in Opposition and voted on a case-by-case basis and behaved like a true King-maker, like Jack Layton had done. This article is about Canada, so I will remind you that it took Jack Layton 4 elections, 4 elections you know, to finally displace the Liberals in 2011, before all of his achievements were blown away by Mulcair who decided to run like a Blairite in 2015.

    Look, if you carefully follow the last 5 Canadian elections, you will be able to identify what we had done really wrong.

  • Thomas: Although Canadians can get a pension at 60 it is at a much lower level than if it is taken at 65 and even higher up to 70. The Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois have just had a big increase in their number of seats and the Liberals and New Democrats have lost 47 in total. The measures promoted by progressive parties are often seen by those they are intended to help as a means to increase well paid jobs for middle class people in the public sector, perhaps unjustifiably but I think there is some truth in it. Labour support tax cuts which would help their middle class voters but not do much for the poor. We live in a world where most Western people are comfortably off and resent having to help the poor minority, whereas in the past most people were poor.

  • Dennis Wake – outside of Quebec, Liberals/NDP lost seats because the 3 progressive parties split votes (especially with the rise of Greens), you can definitely see such things in Atlantic and esp BC (all 3 leftist parties have double-digit vote share, not to mention JWR). Most of the Tories’ gains are in the West, where the Liberals were never strong to begin with. But if you look at the key region Ontario, the Tories got absolutely clobbered.

    I’d like you to have a look at and comment on my assessment of how the Libdem got their way wrong through comparison with Canadian elections (which are also FPTP). In 2010, we could have definitely flanked Brown from the left, but in the end we placed themselves in between of Brown and Cameron. I remember that all parties promised a similar amount of cuts, while we could have actually done differently, for example, cut less and cut slower than both while leveraging low interest rates to invest in Britain – the whole “borrowing at low rate to invest” stuff was exactly the Trudeau playbook in 2015, but the Orange Bookers’ domination of the party prevented us from doing so. I still remember David Laws’ preaching of reducing the size of the state in the midst of a deep recession. And, quickly joining the Coalition also shows our failure to play the long game (like the way Jack Layton did to bring the NDP to the second place in 2011).

  • Alex Macfie 25th Oct '19 - 8:12am

    Thomas: Not going into coalition in 2010 would have resulted in a snap election a few months afterwards, and the Tories would most likely have won outright, blaming us for standing in the way of stable government. The mistake wasn’t going into coalition, but how the party leadership conducted the coalition.
    A fundamental difference between Lib Dems and Canada’s NDP is that the NDP is a properly leftist party, a sister party to Labour. So Jack Layton could never have been a “kingmaker” as he was never going to share power with the Tories. In 2011 he was helped by the Liberals having a bad leader (Michael Ignatieff, a Clegg-equivalent in terms of being strong on intellectual liberal principles but lacking political nous). The Liberal comeback was under Justin Trudeau.

  • Alex Macfie – First, we are not a true leftist party, but Brown/Blair Labour were bog standard Third Way Centrists, so we could have ran from the left of Brown with a classic social liberal New Deal platform. Invoking the New Deal rhetoric would have made any platform more popular during a recession. However, Clegg and his right-wing Orange Bookers, who dominated the party at that time, would have never allowed such thing. I am shocked than both Labour and Libdem have never used “New Deal” as a slogan.

    Second, Ignatieff was a bad and uncharismatic political leader, I agree. But, you have missed the biggest part about Trudeau’s leadership: he moved the Liberals to the left, and during the 2015 campaign the Liberals outflanked the NDP from the left. The NDP led the poll well into the campaign period, until…Trudeau promised deficit spending and infrastructure investments. From then, the Liberals surged and the NDP tanked (OTOH, both the NDP and the Tories pledged to balance the budget). Had Trudeau ran as a Blue Liberal centrist, the NDP would have formed the government by now.

    Third, and now this goes into alternate history territory, I am aware that Cameron would have eventually called for a snap election and would have got a majority without a Coalition. However, their policies would have been even worse, and after a five-year period of extreme austerity (worse than under real-life Coalition), a hypothetical 2016 election would have been our golden chance: running an aggressive solid anti-austerity campaign against the Tories, while blaming Labour for the GFC. The situation would have even been better if Cameron still forced a Brexit referendum like he did in real life a got a Leave win (Remain is always our bread and butter).

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