The implications of the Canadian elections

The Canadian elections took place yesterday. Prime minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, hammered by its leader’s political and personal scandals, lost 20 seats and its majority but still managed to remain the single largest party. It won 157 of the 338 seats with 33% of the popular vote and will have to cobble together a coalition with other parties to get a parliamentary majority and form a government. The opposition Conservatives gained 26 seats and now have 121. They also won a narrow plurality of the popular vote with 34.4%. The Bloc Quebecois won 32 seats and the New Democratic Party won 24.

Cory Doctorow analyzes the result and says that Trudeau deserved his comeuppance because for the longest time he has managed to project a progressive image while tacking towards neoliberal policies.

Justin Trudeau is not your woke bae, he’s just Joe Biden with abs: there’s no policy so progressive that JT won’t endorse it, provided that he never has to do anything to make good on that endorsement, which is how JT ended up being complicit in the #MuslimBan, making Canada’s Patriot Act much worse, bailing out the Transcanada pipeline so in service to Alberta’s filthy, planet-destroying tar sands, abandoning his promises for indigenous reconciliation, rescuing the giant Saudi arms deal, caving to Trump on NAFTA 2.0, and putting partisanship ahead of justice to get a corrupt, giant engineering company off the hook, throwing his indigenous Attorney General under the bus in order to preserve his relationship with a giant party donor.

The Liberals still have the largest block in Parliament, and will form a minority government, relying on the leftist New Democratic Party (who lost 15 seats) to supply the majorities they need to enact their agenda. This will act as a powerful check on Trudeau’s politics of Clintonian sellout triangulation, with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh publicly declaring the cost of his support: “support for a national pharmacare plan, investments in housing, addressing student debt, lowering cell phone and internet bills, action on climate, and raising taxes on the wealthiest Canadians.”

Meanwhile, the Liberal Party’s internal power brokers — who won every fight over the past 5 years to put party over country and appearance over substance — are now going to be engaged in a high-stakes game of brinksmanship, demanding that the NDP support more-of-the-same neoliberal sellouts, dangling the threat of an election-triggering no-confidence vote and a possible Conservative majority.

Trudeau has managed to skate along with his youth, good looks, and charisma masking the fact that his progressive rhetoric comes nowhere close to his actual policies. He is Canada’s version of Bill Clinton. Let’s see how he deals with this new situation.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    He is Canada’s version of Bill Clinton

    Oh goodie. Some good old facile sound-bite “analysis”, from you and Doctorow. If you want facile comparisons, he’s far better than Cinton or Obama, but I consider that a low bar.

    There’s a lot to criticize about Trudeau, personally as well as politically, but there’s also a fair amount that’s praiseworthy. I’d have been happier if the NDP and Greens had achieved a higher seat count at the Liberals’ expense, so that they could light some fires on pressing issues. But the big picture is far more complicated than the kindergarten sketches provided here.

  2. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 Rob Grigjanis
    I think that Cory Doctorow has been spending too much time outside Canada. I even agree with him on some points but you have the right of it; it is a ” good old facile sound-bite “analysis”.

    What was really surprising to me was the Bloc’s showing. I had thought that the Cons and the Liberals would have picked up some of those seats. It was obvious the NDP were going to take a pounding in Québec though I was not expecting it to be quite so bad.

    I see Bernier lost his seat. Nothing like advocating the abolition of the milk marketing boards to get voters’ attention in the Beauce.

    @ Mano
    [Trudeau ]will have to cobble together a coalition with other parties to get a parliamentary majority and form a government

    No unless the Bloc Québécois AND the NDP wish to immediately precipitate a vote of non-confidence the Liberals can form a minority gov’t. A true coalition gov’t is not a requirement and Canada has a bit of a tradition of minority governments. They can be quite productive.

  3. Canadian Steve says

    Trudeau has managed to skate along with his youth, good looks, and charisma masking the fact that his progressive rhetoric comes nowhere close to his actual policies. He is Canada’s version of Bill Clinton. Let’s see how he deals with this new situation

    I agree with both 1) Rob Grignais and 2) jrkrideau 🙂 But I also wanted to comment on the quote above.

    The reality is that youth and good looks had essentially nothing to do with this victory. The mask is off as it were and Canadians have see what Trudeau has to offer, and were unimpressed. The problem is that the alternative that had a realistic shot of forming a government -- the Conservatives -- did everything in their power to alienate urban voters. In the midst of a gun violence crisis in Toronto they vowed to do nothing about guns. In the midst of a climate crisis (something identified as a high priority for Canadians outside of conservative strongholds) they ran on repealing a carbon tax and increasing oil and gas development. During the day of climate action Scheer spoke about expanding automotive infrastructure. They bet heavily on motivating their base and lost the chance to win younger and urban voters. They bet wrong, and unless they change strategy they are unlikely to win in the future as the demographics work against them.
    It’s worth noting that each the Conservatives and Liberals achieved a national vote share of only just over 30%, meaning more people (40%) voted for someone other than either of this parties individually.

  4. Canadian Steve says

    Accuracy note:
    Oops, I had thought the percentages for each Conservatives and Liberals were a couple of points lower. It would be more accurate to say a roughly equal share of Canadians voted for something other than one of the two largest parties.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    Canadian Steve: It’s also worth pointing out that 36% voted conservative (CPC and PPC), while more than 60% voted sort-of-progressive (Lib, NDP, Green, Bloc).

  6. rojmiller says

    The Conservatives won 34.4% of the popular vote, while the Liberals got 33.1%. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, their vote was concentrated in one area -- Alberta (where they got 70% of the vote -- more votes in total there than in 5 other provinces combined [Quebec plus the Maritime provinces]). So left-of centre got 64% of the vote. Canada has a new truly right-wing party (anti-immigration etc) which went down to ignominious defeat, not even electing their leader (previously a Conservative), and getting only 1.6% of the vote.

    For non-Canadians, note that 4 of the 5 main parties (Liberals, NDP, Green, and Bloc -- which combined get 98% of the vote) are all left-of-centre (Liberals being centre-left). The Conservatives themselves gravitate toward the centre in some areas, and are not too far off the main-stream Democrats (not the reformers) in the US.

  7. says

    Meanwhile, out here in western Canada the post-election news as been about “#wexit” (the separation of Alberta, Saskatchewan, part of BC, and maybe Manitoba from the rest of Canada), the usual conservative snowflake holding of breath and stamping of feet because they lost an election. You’ll recall that there was talk about Texas seceding from the union during the Obama years.

    Conservatives really hate losing elections.

    The rage in Alberta when Rachel Notley’s NDP formed a left-leaning government for the first time after decades of “Progressive” Conservative rule was palpable.

    Anyway, I’m feeling like giving a short recent history lesson about Canadian conservatives…

    Several years ago, the main right-wing party in Canada was the Progressive Conservatives (“PC” for short, funnily enough). However, for cons out west the party wasn’t right-wing enough and they didn’t feel like they were being pandered to appropriately, so they splintered off into the Reform Party. This, of course, split the vote and helped build some huge Liberal majority governments. After a while, they decided to merge into a new party, the Conservative Party of Canada, taking this party further to the right than the old PCs.

    Years later, the same thing happened in Alberta. The far right splintered off from the provincial PCs (who still existed because provincial parties aren’t actual wings of federal parties) and formed the Wildrose Party. The Wildrose never had a chance of forming the government because their members couldn’t stop talking about hell fire and brimstone, but they were able to take enough votes away from the PCs to enable the stunning NDP victory.

    All it took was one election loss for the two parties to talk merger and sure enough they did, creating the United Conservative Party*, of course moving this new party to the right. This new party was able to win the last provincial election, and they are about to table their first budget. We expect a lot of brutal cuts, but now they can blame any pain on the federal Liberals and their flock will buy it.

    * Conservatives are really, really bad at naming new parties. The United Conservatives are the hilarious “YouSeePee”, and the original name for the federal merger was the “Conservative Reform Alliance Party”.

  8. fledanow says

    to Tabby Lavalamp @ 8

    Not Manitoba. Although we are embarrassingly blue in the rural south on the federal electoral map, in provincial politics we mostly hang with the NDP until the annoyances accumulate to the degree that the electorate forgets how much we hate being governed by the Conservatives. Pallister, a truly stupid man, is in his second term as a Conservative premier, and the loathing is mounting. I expect we will return to the NDP relatively soon, but not until the Conservatives have done significant harm to our social services. They are happily hacking away.

  9. says

    fledanow @9

    And good luck to them if they try to split up BC. If they do get a referendum, it’s going to be just Alberta and Saskatchewan, and if they win the referendum? Enjoy trying to negotiate crown and treaty land.

    Brexit is a mess, but it would be nothing compared to trying to wexit.

  10. Rob Grigjanis says

    rojmiller @7:

    Canada has a new truly right-wing party (anti-immigration etc) which went down to ignominious defeat, not even electing their leader (previously a Conservative), and getting only 1.6% of the vote.

    That leader, Maxime Bernier, a climate denier and libertarian clown, came very close to winning the CPC leadership. When he lost to Scheer, he took his toys and stomped off. He got one thing right; the CPC is morally bankrupt. But so is he. And the whole pack of ’em are intellectually bankrupt as well.

  11. quotetheunquote says

    The PPC’s are a very odd bunch indeed.

    Although they did very poorly in S. Ontario (where I live), they managed to attract a few non-WASP people to stand as candidates; I do not know this for a fact, but, given the locations of the ridings (mostly in “The 905” -- an area around Toronto with a high proportion of new Canadians) it is likely they were immigrants or the children of immigrants. Have to wonder what was going on in their heads -- “I’m all right, slam the door behind me”?

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    quotetheunquote @12: The PPC candidate in my riding (in Metro Toronto) was an immigrant from South Asia (as was the CPC candidate). My impression is that she was enamoured of the “let business thrive with minimum government interference” message. I was actually mildly alarmed by the number of PPC lawn signs in my neighbourhood, but it looks like that was a very local phenomenon.

  13. rojmiller says

    I think that the PPC got exactly what it deserved when the Rhinoceros Party put up as their candidate in Maxime Bernier’s riding a person named…. Maxime Bernier!

  14. Steve Cameron says

    Wow, so many Canadians here!

    As much as I like to point out when foreigners read our politics wrong (I’m looking at you, The Economist!) I didn’t find anything substantial to complain about in this post, unlike the first three commenters, Rob, JRK or (the other) Canadian Steve. Sure, you didn’t realize the Libs can form government with a minority (much like the Brits are doing now — they just can’t lose any confidence votes), but that’s not a big deal.

    Doctorow, even living abroad, is still more plugged in to Canadian politics than the above commenters are giving him credit for. In fact Rob seems to be leaking some Liberal red by insisting that Trudeau is “far better than Clinton or Obama.” He may leave a better political legacy, but that’s more due to how fucked up the States is than the political skills of those two presidents. Trudeau, by comparison, is a lightweight politician who I’d consider more like George W. Bush inasmuch as he’s a mouthpiece for backroom strategists, or Hillary Clinton inasmuch as no matter how many ideological buzzwords and focus-tested platitudes he uses, he doesn’t realize most Canadians see him for the corporate lackey and 1%er that he is.

    It’s going to be interesting to see how this new dynamic with a minority government sorts itself out. Nobody, except perhaps the Conservatives, wants another election in the next year or two, so I don’t expect there to be too much brinkmanship between the Liberals and whichever party they need to support them on a particular vote. Their advantage is they’ll be able to choose which party they need for support (between the Bloc Québecois and the NDP), but I think they’ll want to be agreeable to concessions when negotiating with that party. At least until they feel like they’ve got enough support to win a majority in another election. If they threaten the other parties with an election where the Conservatives are likely to win, they’ll only come off worse for it. The Bloc leader, Yves-François Blanchet, pretty much said that he’d support the government in confidence votes by saying the results gave Trudeau a four-year mandate.

    One silver lining to the election is that the new NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, proved he had the mettle to helm the party in this new government. A lot of analysts were writing him off, but he performed well in the debates and throughout the campaign. Sure they lost 15 seats, but the 24 they have now are worth more in this minority situation.

  15. Jenora Feuer says

    This isn’t new for the Rhinoceros Party: they found a John Turner to run against John N. Turner in Quadra West back in the previous post-Trudeau days in 1988. Middle initials were on the ballot.

    @quotetheunquote, Rob Grigjanis:
    The PPC candidate where I work was Sarah Chung, who was a Malaysian Olympic-level taekwondo competitor. I know when I first saw her poster, my first thought was ‘how can you not realize you’re being used as a useful idiot by people who wouldn’t let any of your family in if they had control?’ It looks like she’s an ‘all immigrants must become part of the dominant culture’ sort, and she already did so, so doesn’t see what the problem is anymore.

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