The national elections on Monday were a thoroughly Canadian affair. No party won a victory but all the big party leaders found reason to celebrate the outcome. Everyone got a medal.
The main finding is that voters re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party for a second term, but with fewer seats. He returns to Ottawa with 157 seats in the lower house and falls below the 170-seat threshold for the majority. That's enough to govern for the time being, but the other parties could unite and call for a new election at any time.
Despite the setback, Trudeau celebrated the results. "They send our liberal team back to work in Ottawa with a clear mandate," he said Monday night.
Trudeau's main rival, Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer, was also optimistic. "Our party is strong, we agree and we march," he announced, despite marching back to the opposition with 121 seats.
Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the left-wing New Democratic Party, saw that his party's number of seats had fallen to only 24, although NDP support was heavily publicized in the final days of the campaign. But you would not know that it was the lowest party party for more than a decade since Singh's solemn speech on Monday, which he held after dancing through a wild crowd of supporters. After all, Singh had led a strong campaign, surpassing the low expectations placed on him as he had written history as the first man of color to head a Canadian national party.
Trudeau's rivals will all agree that they should have done better.
The good mood did not stop there: The Greens celebrated the election of three deputies to parliament, a record for this party, and the separatist Bloc Québécois, who leads only candidates in the French-speaking region. The province of Quebec came with 32 deputies who under the charismatic new leader Yves-François Blanchet, returned from the political wilderness.
Despite the smile, Trudeau's rivals will feel they should have done better. They could not have hoped for a better chance to end his term as prime minister after a series of high-profile scandals had tarnished his reputation as a progressive champion advocating "sunny paths," as he had promised four years ago. In August, the Canadian Ethics Commissioner found that Trudeau had urged his Attorney General and Attorney General to release a well-networked engineering bureau from criminal charges. In the end, he dismissed Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first indigenous person who was Attorney General, from the party for her decision to expose this pressure campaign. Just a few days after the campaign began, several photos appeared, depicting Trudeau as a younger man in black and brown. This reputational damage, coupled with Trudeau's broken promises to reform the elections and improve relations with indigenous communities, still did not seem to hurt Liberals as much as they should have.
Despite its multi-party system, Canada has so far elected only liberal and conservative federal governments. However, many of the most advanced policies – such as public retirement plans, marriage equality, and universal healthcare for single payers – were passed in minority parliaments, where liberals were under pressure from the left. With electoral polls showing a worsening race in the final days of the election campaign, many advanced players openly hoped for such a scenario, with the NDP taking its traditional role as the "conscience of Parliament" in third place.
A liberal minority government under pressure from the NDP could be the best possible outcome – at least for two-thirds of Canadian voters who regularly vote for non-conservatives. Neither party will be prepared to re-open elections in the near future as they fear both voter anger and their own empty election campaigns. The NDP and other progressive forces could use this to their advantage and urge Liberals to establish a universal national drug plan, invest in affordable housing and transit, take aggressive action to tackle climate change, and set other priorities for which the centrist Liberals often use but comfortable times forgotten in the office.
In the meantime, the conservatives will be happy to get rid of the threat from the right, the newly formed People's Party. The People's Party, led by former Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, who narrowly lost Scheer's lead in 2017, could have been a thorn in the side of the larger party, as did UKIP and the Brexit party over recent British Conservatives Have harassed for years.
Bernier's opposition to feminism, multiculturalism and what he mockingly refers to as "mass immigration" has highlighted an ugly load of Canadian political thought that is normally kept out of mainstream, and success for the People's Party could have sped up that trend. Voters eventually rejected this message after months of protesting against the party's policies and candidates, and even by the end of the night even Bernier admitted defeat and the party no longer had seats in parliament.
In an election where almost everyone ran away with trophies, the real victory could be that the right wing left the competition empty-handed.