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The Canadian election is (mostly) over. Cue the party leadership speculation: experts

Click to play video: 'Canada election: O’Toole faces leadership questions after loss to Trudeau Liberals' Canada election: O’Toole faces leadership questions after loss to Trudeau Liberals
WATCH ABOVE: O’Toole faces leadership questions after loss to Trudeau Liberals – Sep 21, 2021

The Canadian federal election is now — mostly — a thing of the past after being dominated for weeks by questions over whether it was warranted in the midst of the COVID-19 fourth wave.

For the major federal party leaders now though, experts say the question is poised to become: could they or should they have done better at the polls, and will the political knives now come out?

Prominent Conservative Lisa Raitt, a former federal cabinet minister, said she expects both Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole will face questions from their caucuses, but what happens next is still uncertain.

“I think it’s too early to say, ‘knives out,'” she told Global News on Tuesday.

“I do believe that caucus has a right to understand from both of their leaders behind closed doors what happened, what’s the analysis and where do we go from here.”

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READ MORE: Liberals projected to form minority government; Trudeau bills win as ‘clear mandate’

Click to play video: 'What does the future of party leadership look like after election 2021?' What does the future of party leadership look like after election 2021?
What does the future of party leadership look like after election 2021? – Sep 21, 2021

After five weeks and $600-million, the pandemic election — the most expensive in Canadian history — has left the makeup of the House of Commons virtually identical to what it was when Trudeau chose to seek a dissolution on Aug. 15, and send the country to the polls.

That early lead quickly evaporated and Trudeau is once again set to lead a minority government that will see him forced by Canadians to negotiate and cooperate with the other parties in order to govern.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh now appears poised to play kingmaker, and said he plans to stay on as leader when questioned early Tuesday morning about whether he should be replaced. In comparison, Green Party Leader Annamie Paul’s second straight failure to win the Toronto Centre seat she was campaigning for is already prompting questions about her own future and ability to lead the party.

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“I’ve never seen the party so unprepared for an election,” said former Green leader Elizabeth May, who was re-elected as the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, during an interview with Global News.

The two major party leaders are likely also facing questions in light of the election result.

Grace Skogstad, a professor of political science with the University of Toronto, described the outcome as “a disappointment for both the Liberal and Conservative leaders.”

“In terms of what it means for their leadership, there’s going to be a greater challenge to Erin O’Toole’s leadership than there is to Justin Trudeau’s. … It’s always easier to win an election, even if he’s only gained one seat.”

READ MORE: O’Toole’s election gamble — swinging Tories to the centre

O’Toole gambled big by swinging the Conservative Party to the centre of the political spectrum, but was not able to oust Trudeau from the Prime Minister’s Office.

He told journalists on Tuesday afternoon he was “disappointed” with the result but planned to remain in the role and has already started the process to review what could have been done better.

“Next time we will,” he said of the frustration members feel at not winning.

“We’re closer in dozens upon dozens of ridings, but not close enough. I want to earn that trust with Canadians. That’s why we’re going to work tirelessly.”

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His predecessor, Andrew Scheer, vowed to stay in the role as leader following the 2019 campaign that saw Trudeau reduced from a majority to a minority, but within weeks because the target of internal party fighting and damaging leaks that led him to shift gears, and step aside.

O’Toole won the ensuing leadership race. But unlike with Scheer’s election loss, there are already strong voices from within the party speaking out about the need to rally around O’Toole rather than kick him to the curb, and search for a new leader.

Click to play video: 'Conservative support drops in Alberta, PPC and Kenney a factor: political scientist' Conservative support drops in Alberta, PPC and Kenney a factor: political scientist
Conservative support drops in Alberta, PPC and Kenney a factor: political scientist – Sep 21, 2021

Matthew Conway, one of the Quebec representatives on the party’s national council of members, said Conservatives will need to do a post-mortem to figure out what could’ve been done better.

But he said in a minority government, changing leaders after each election simply isn’t realistic.

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“I think going into another leadership would be a massive mistake,” he told Global News.

“We can’t be quick. We can’t change leaders after every election. There is absolutely no momentum into that next election. There’s causes too much upheaval.”

A former Conservative candidate and ex-political staffer, Conway said the post-mortem on the election results will need to take a hard look at why some Liberal attacks over things like the party’s positions on abortion access and firearms control resonated with voters.

Both will likely continue to be part of Liberal political attacks in the future, he noted.

“The Liberals will play the fear game and we need to be ready to defend ourselves on that. We need to realize also that the Morgentaler abortion decision was in 1988,” he said, adding more can be done to make it clear O’Toole is pro-choice.

“But also people in our party need to stop fighting battles that were fought many years ago. It’s 2021. … Continuing to fight these battles just allows Justin Trudeau and his corrupt government to continue getting elected, and that doesn’t serve Canada.”

READ MORE: O’Toole reverses campaign pledge on conscience rights, says doctors must refer patients

Jason Lietaer, a Conservative strategist, offered a similar case for why O’Toole should stay on.

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He said while some party members are getting “restless” after losing three elections in a row, the best shot at forming government again is building on the foundations he says O’Toole laid in the campaign.

“I think the main question you ask yourself is, can this guy win? And I think the answer is yes. It’s one of the reasons why I think Mr. O’Toole should probably get another crack at this,” said Lietaer, who is president of the political strategy firm Enterprise.

“The truth is, it’s a lot easier to win the second time than the first time if you continue to grow in the job. I think he’s shown capacity to grow.”

Click to play video: 'Canada election: Mood not great at Conservative party headquarters following projected Liberal minority government' Canada election: Mood not great at Conservative party headquarters following projected Liberal minority government
Canada election: Mood not great at Conservative party headquarters following projected Liberal minority government – Sep 20, 2021

Skogstad also noted O’Toole may be able to stave off leadership challenges with the fact that the People’s Party of Canada, the far-right group led by ex-Tory Maxime Bernier, didn’t win a single seat in the House of Commons in the election.

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If O’Toole can demonstrate he has a plan to keep building on the pivot to the centre and turn that into more votes, he may have a chance to stay on that Scheer did not get, she suggested.

“A little more than a third of his caucus is going to be from Saskatchewan and Alberta, and we can expect those MP’s to take issue with the kind of campaign that he ran, which is to try to move the party to the centre, make it look much more like an old Progressive Conservative Party,” she said.

“I think he can justifiably argue that the pathway to a national government in Canada does have to be to hold much more toward the centre.”

— with files from Global’s Mike Le Couteur, Abigail Bimman and Rachel Gilmore.

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