Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party is projected to win the most seats in Canada’s hard-fought election, although it is expected to lose its majority and will need the support of at least one other party to form the next government.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. projected about an hour after polls began to close across Canada that the Liberals would retain power but that Trudeau would likely need other parties’ backing.
The race was one of the closest and most contentious in memory. No party appeared set to win the 170 seats needed for a majority government at any point during the 40-day campaign, leaving the country prepared for the likelihood of a minority government or political deadlock. The incumbent prime minister is generally allowed to get the first shot at cobbling together a government if there is no outright winner.
The campaign included heated attacks among the candidates, misinformation spreading across social media platforms and Canadian media outlets lamenting the divisive, depressing turn in the country’s politics. At a low point in the race, a security threat led to Trudeau wearing a bulletproof vest underneath his suit at a rally — an extreme aberration for Canadian politics.
Trudeau spent much of the race defending himself and apologizing for scandals that have tarnished what was left of his brand as a progressive champion and damaged the Liberal Party after its landslide victory four years ago. An image of 29-year-old Trudeau in brownface at a costume party during his stint as a high school teacher made international headlines last month, and was quickly followed by several more photos and video of him in racist makeup at other events in his past.
The Liberal Party was also still recovering from infighting and allegations that Trudeau tried to block a corruption and fraud case against a major engineering firm last year. The incident, known as the SNC-Lavalin affair, resulted in a public spat between Trudeau and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who resigned after accusing Trudeau and his associates of trying to improperly influence her to help the firm avoid prosecution. Trudeau’s treatment of Wilson-Raybould, a well-respected Indigenous lawmaker, left many questioning the sincerity behind the prime minister’s public image as a global advocate for feminism and diversity.
But despite the Liberals’ scandals, neither the left-wing New Democratic Party nor the Conservatives emerged as a dominant force in the election. The NDP’s leader Jagmeet Singh, who is Sikh, gained in popularity throughout the race as he endured racist attacks on the campaign trail, but was hampered by public perceptions that he is politically inexperienced.
Meanwhile, Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party went on the offensive against Trudeau and vowed to repeal Liberal policies that include a controversial carbon tax aimed at combating climate change. But the party struggled to turn Scheer, a milquetoast 40-year-old with an affable demeanor and conservative views on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, into a standout candidate. Even his scandals, such as allegations he misrepresented his past experience as an insurance broker and didn’t declare he also had U.S. citizenship, were bland.
The Conservative campaign also faced allegations that it helped the spread of misinformation, including running ads targeting Chinese Canadians with the false claim that the Liberals intended to legalize hard drugs and issuing a press release referencing a conspiracy theory about Trudeau.
Several smaller parties additionally vied to take away seats from the big three and play a potential role as power brokers in a minority government. The separatist Bloc Quebecois surged back into prominence in the French-speaking province of Quebec, and looked set to gain numerous seats, while the environmentalist Green Party unsuccessfully sought to focus the election race on climate change.
A new far-right party, the People’s Party of Canada, ran on an anti-immigration message as it flirted with extremists, but failed to gain any significant support. The party leader, former top Conservative official Maxime Bernier, could not even retain his parliamentary seat, and the party’s future now looks dire.
The majority of Canadian voters have cast their ballots for left-leaning parties since at least the early 1990s, but that vote is divided among the Liberals and the NDP in a way that opens the door to Conservative victories.