Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won a second term in Canada’s national elections Monday, losing the majority but delivering unexpectedly strong results despite having been weakened by a series of scandals that tarnished his image as a liberal icon.
Trudeau’s Liberal party took the most seats in Parliament, giving it the best chance to form a government. However, falling short of a majority meant the Liberals would have to rely on an opposition party to pass legislation.
“It’s not quite the same as 2015. It’s not all owing to the leader,” said Robert Bothwell, a professor of Canadian history and international relations at the University of Toronto. “Trudeau is prime minister because the rest of the party was able to pull itself together and prevail. While Trudeau certainly deserves credit for what has happened he’s really going to have to demonstrate qualities that he hasn’t yet shown.”
Still, the results were a victory for Trudeau, whose clean-cut image took a hit after old photos of him in blackface and brownface surfaced last month.
“I’m surprised at how well Trudeau has done,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. “I don’t think anybody expected Trudeau to get a majority but they are not that far off.”
With results still trickling in early Tuesday, the Liberals had 156 seats — 14 short of the 170 needed for a majority in the 338-seat House of Commons.
“Tonight Canadians rejected division and negativity. They rejected cuts and austerity. They elected a progressive agenda and strong action on climate change,” Trudeau said early Tuesday.
His address to supporters came, unusually, as his Conservative rival, Andrew Scheer, had just begun speaking to his own supporters, forcing networks to tear away from Scheer’s speech. But the prime minister struck a conciliatory note: “To those who did not vote for us, know that we will work every single day for you, we will govern for everyone,” Trudeau said.
The Canadian vote came down to what was essentially a choice between the handsome and charismatic Trudeau and Scheer, the Conservatives’ unassuming leader who was seen as the perfect antidote to Trudeau’s flash and celebrity.
Trudeau reasserted liberalism in 2015 after almost 10 years of Conservative Party government in Canada, but scandals combined with high expectations damaged his prospects.
Perhaps sensing Trudeau was in trouble, Barack Obama made an unprecedented endorsement by a former American president in urging Canadians to re-elect Trudeau and saying the world needs his progressive leadership now.
Trudeau, son of the liberal icon and late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, is one of the few remaining progressive world leaders in the Trump era and even appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine under the headline “Why Can’t He Be Our President?”
Scheer, 40, is a career politician who was seen as a possible antidote to Trudeau’s flash. But Bothwell said late Monday that he expected Scheer to resign.
“He’s gone,” Bothwell said. “He ran a really dirty campaign. There is nothing to be proud of on his side. He had the opportunity and blew it.”
Among other things, Scheer called Trudeau a phony who couldn’t even remember how many times he had worn blackface.
In his concession speech, Scheer said the results showed Trudeau was much weakened since his 2015 election, when pundits had predicted the beginning of another Trudeau dynasty.
“Tonight Conservatives have put Justin Trudeau on notice,” Scheer said. “And Mr. Trudeau when your government falls, Conservatives will be ready and we will win.”
Trudeau also was hurt by a scandal that erupted this year when his former attorney general said he pressured her to halt the prosecution of a Quebec company. Trudeau has said he was standing up for jobs, but the damage gave a boost to the Conservative Party.
Trudeau’s Liberals will likely rely on the New Democrats to form a new government and pass legislation. Opposition New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh said early Tuesday he had congratulated Trudeau and vowed to play a constructive role in Parliament.
Wiseman, from the University of Toronto, said Monday’s results left the Conservatives deeply disappointed.
“They had an opportunity here to win,” he said.
Scheer had promised to end a national carbon tax and cut government spending, including foreign aid, by 25%.
Trudeau embraced immigration at a time when the U.S. and other countries are closing their doors, and he legalized cannabis nationwide.
His efforts to strike a balance on the environment and the economy have been criticized by both the right and left. He brought in a carbon tax to fight climate change but rescued a stalled pipeline expansion project to get Alberta’s oil to international markets.
His also negotiated a new free trade deal for Canada with the U.S. and Mexico amid threats by U.S. President Donald Trump to scrap it.
Trump, who has clashed with Trudeau over trade, tweeted his congratulations early Tuesday, saying, “Canada is well served.”
Pat Gill, a Vancouver retiree, said she voted for Trudeau.
“I think people know he’s made some mistakes,” said Gill, who is 74. “I’m hoping he’s learned in the last four years. I still think he’s our best bet.”