Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau failed to win his majority government in the snap election he called — and experts say he will need to answer for that disappointing result in the days and weeks to come.
The election is projected to have cost taxpayers roughly $600 million. By Tuesday morning, the Liberals’ seat share was projected to be roughly the same as it was two years ago, with the Conservatives once again in official opposition and the NDP holding the balance of power.
The Liberals are also projected to win around 31 per cent of the popular vote — one of the lowest vote shares for a winning party in Canada’s history.
“This was pure hubris,” said Nelson Wiseman, professor emeritus in political science at the University of Toronto.
“There was so much anger over this election even before it was called. But Trudeau saw polling that looked good for him and took that chance. And more people should have spoken up perhaps, that this was the wrong move.”
The Liberals entered the campaign with strong public support over its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but with an equal amount of skepticism over whether an election should be called before the pandemic was under control.
Although a slim majority of voters polled by Ipsos in April said it was important to hold an election to have a say on Trudeau’s government, 57 per cent felt such a vote would not be fair due to health and safety issues, while 54 per cent said it would be unsafe.
As the campaign went on, voters’ anger over the election grew — something pollsters said they had never seen before — while the Liberals’ support fell from a five-point lead over the Tories to a dead heat.
Ipsos found early in the campaign that Trudeau was found to be the party leader most likely to have a hidden agenda, while his overall approval rating dipped below 50 per cent for the first time since the pandemic began last year. That approval never got back up above water before Election Day.
Wiseman says Trudeau was benefitting during the pandemic from being beamed into Canadians’ homes nearly every day with updates from the federal government.
Once the election was called, however, the opposition leaders were able to grab some of that airtime, diminishing Trudeau’s influence.
Allan Tupper, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia, says Trudeau misjudged how much his pre-election appeal would carry into a campaign when voters were focused on their own health and safety.
“The Liberals certainly tried to make the case that they were the ones who could lead through a changing world, a changing country. And I think they miscalculated a bit,” he said.
Tupper said Trudeau may have looked at the provincial elections held during the pandemic that saw some governments win stronger mandates — notably in British Columbia and New Brunswick — and thought the Liberals could do the same.
“But in those cases, (the provincial elections) were held during a relatively quiet time during the pandemic,” he said. “This time it’s looking different.”
A Liberal campaign source speaking on background pushed back on any claims that the party’s decision to call an election was ill-advised, or that they misjudged how the electorate was feeling.
The source said the Liberals were able to highlight the flaws in the Conservative and NDP plans while framing this election as “a choice” for how to respond to the next stage of the pandemic and beyond.
Any result, the source said, would have been acceptable to the party because it would “show the will of Canadians.”
Greg MacEachern, a former Liberal strategist, also insisted that the party’s staff was “very happy” at campaign headquarters in Montreal.
“(Party staff) were looking at more of the conservative numbers, so they might have been expecting (less seats),” he said. “So from the Liberal campaign point-of-view, they’re very pleased.”
MacEachern did admit that he was “surprised” about how long the public’s anger towards the election lasted in polls and interviews.
As for the potential for Trudeau to face calls to step down as leader after failing to build the Liberals’ support, experts and Liberals alike said that’s unlikely to happen.
“I think it’s wrong for parties to be in the mindset of immediately pushing out a leader if they don’t get the result they like,” Tupper said.
While he said he understands the arguments in favour of Trudeau stepping aside, “I don’t see any compelling reason for Trudeau to go.”
MacEachern pointed to the moment in the French debate where Trudeau pointed to Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s inconsistencies on the subject of gun control, which led to repeated questions on O’Toole’s stance.
“I think that gave traction to the Liberal campaign where they were able to get out from under the talk of the unnecessary election,” he said.
“There’s no one else you can credit for that. There’s not an ad, there’s not a pithy tweet, it was the prime minister at that debate. And I think the campaign owes him a lot for that.”