How do the Canadian Liberals win a majority next time?

It’s a case of ‘as you were’ in Canada as electors stick with the Liberals – as a minority government.

Having called a snap election in August, Justin Trudeau will be relieved to still be Prime Minister having seen his Liberal Party slump in the opinion polls earlier in the campaign.

When the election was called on 15th August, the Liberals had a strong 6-point lead over the Conservatives. However, by 5th September, the Tories had overtaken the Liberals for a 3-point lead. At this point, it looked as though Trudeau’s gamble was going to backfire. After some strong performances at the televised election debates and high-energy electioneering, the Liberals retook the lead over the final few days of the campaign. It’s also clear that the first-past-the-post electoral system has helped them win as the Tories won more votes but fewer seats than the ‘Grits’.

Opposition leader, Erin O’Toole, failed to make the most of voters’ disgruntlement over having to return to the polling booths during the pandemic. Having taken a more centrist position on areas such as covid-recovery, LGBTQ+ issues, abortion, and the environment, O’Toole had tried to make himself out as a credible, reliable alternative to Trudeau. However, the Conservatives ended losing two seats from the previous election. The Tories may feel that had they taken a more populist tone, they might have done better. This is because the right-wing People’s Party won more than 5% of the vote – enough to dent Tory hopes and to swing some seats to the Liberals.

It was also a disappointing night for Jagmeet Singh and the NDP. This should have been a breakthrough election for the left-leaning party, but they failed to attract more progressive voters who are tired of Trudeau’s Liberals after 6 years in power. However, they made only one gain this election.

Liberals need to focus on Atlantic Canada to win a majority again

In the 2015 Federal Election, where the Liberals soared from third party to majority government, they swept ‘Atlantic Canada’ completely. In the provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick, the Liberals won all the ridings.

However, by 2021, the Liberals had lost ground in places like New Brunswick, where liberal Fredericton is now surrounded with a blue Tory doughnut. In some ridings in Atlantic Canada, the Liberals are now as much as 10,000 votes off winning the seat.

At a province-level, the Liberal Party has been struggling in these parts for the last few years, and it might be here, rather than at a national level, where the party need to re-connect with voters. Either way, the Liberals need to work hard to regain voters’ trust in Atlantic Canada if they are to have any chance of winning a majority at federal level again.

As well as Atlantic Canada, the Liberals should also focus on gaining ground in provinces like Quebec (where the Bloc Quebecois are leading in some ridings by only a few thousand votes) and British Columbia (where the Liberals run the NDP close in parts of suburban Vancouver).

What next?

It’s now unclear how long Trudeau will be Prime Minister for. He’s now failed to win a majority in each of the last two elections and is surely running low on political capital. It might be that over the next four-year parliament, he will look to step aside and let a new leader take-up the cause.

* 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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  • Denis Mollison 26th Sep '21 - 11:14am

    The question heading this piece – `How do the Liberals win a majority?’ is FPTP thinking.
    It would be better if Trudeau delivered on his 2015 promise of electoral reform for the Canadian Parliament.

    [Ideally on the lines recommended for British Columbia by their Citizen’s Assembly in 2004 – ]

  • Brad Barrows 26th Sep '21 - 11:31am

    After the result of the 2011 election, there was a belief that the New Democratic Party could go on to win power. This possibility probably ended with the tragic death of their party leader later that year.

    What gets me most about Canadian politics is the degree to which First Past the Post distorts elections. This recent election, for the second time in a row, has the Liberals winning in terms of seats though with a smaller share of the vote than the Conservatives and the Liberals falling just short of a majority with less than a third of the vote.

  • Swings and roundabouts, probably the Cons weill win next time, it will be there turn, once they have absorded the Peoples party.
    Needs to be a radical redistribution of seats to make the playing field level, that alone will produce a Con majority.
    Trying to change the subject, Good to see the FDP vote holding up in Germany. Media has missed this.

  • Paul Barker 26th Sep '21 - 1:33pm

    If The Liberals had stuck to their promise to deliver Electoral Reform Canada would now have a Parliament with a substantial Progressive majority – Trudeau didn’t deserve to “win”.

  • John Marriott 26th Sep '21 - 3:52pm

    If they do deliver ‘voting reform’ in Canada, what chance is there of ANY party gaining a majority on its own?

  • David Evans 26th Sep '21 - 7:03pm

    A key question is “How liberal are the Canadian Liberals?” and even more from our party’s viewpoint is “How Liberal Democrat are the Canadian Liberals?”

  • Jason Connor 26th Sep '21 - 9:10pm

    I heard the FDP vote in Germany was about the same as it was last time but the Green vote has gone right up there unfortunately. I thought Trudeau was popular there so am surprised the Canadian Liberals have not done better but pleased they are making ground in Quebec. I would be interested in how the Parti Quebecois are doing, they tend to remind me more of Plaid than the SNP.

  • John Marriott 26th Sep '21 - 9:52pm

    @David Evans
    Not very,David, or at least they weren’t when I lived there in the early 1970s. The NDP were the new kids on the block back then and apparently, after fifty or so years, still are. That’s how hard it appears to be for socialists to make any headway in North America!

  • Before any of that, don’t annoy voters by calling unnecessary elections, especially in the middle of a crisis.

  • Gwyn Williams 27th Sep '21 - 9:57am

    For those calling for electoral reform in Canada, it should be noted that over the last 100 years the Liberals have been in power for 70 years and the Progressive Conservatives etc for only 30. This is the exact opposite of the UK where the Conservatives have been in power for 70 of the last 100 years.

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