Andrew Scheer reduced the Liberals to a minority government, but the Conservative Leader failed to unseat Justin Trudeau even as the Prime Minister was haunted by a series of scandals and missteps.
The results will raise inevitable questions about Mr. Scheer’s future just two years after he took over the party, although it was unclear whether he would be under any immediate pressure to step aside. At the very least, he faces a leadership review next year and there have already been rumblings within the party about potential successors.
Mr. Scheer started the race behind in the polls and the party failed to make a needed breakthrough in Quebec as the Bloc Québécois took nearly half the province’s seats. The Conservatives also trailed the Liberals in Ontario’s critical 905 area code. The Conservatives ended the night 34 seats behind across the country.
Mr. Scheer told supporters in Regina that the party should be proud for winning the popular vote defying pundits who believed Mr. Trudeau would lead a political dynasty. He predicted the party would have another shot at defeating the Liberals soon — and he promised to be ready.
‘This is how it starts, this is the first step,” said Mr. Scheer, who did not directly address his own future.
“And now we are heading back to Ottawa with a much bigger team, with more support for coast to coast, and an endorsement from Canadians that we are the government in waiting.”
Earlier in the night, the mood at the event was muted as broadcast networks projected a Liberal minority government, though there were loud cheers as Conservative Michael Kram unseated Ralph Goodale in his Regina riding. After Mr. Scheer’s speech, supporters quickly filed out of Conservative headquarters and workers began tearing down equipment.
The election loss followed a bitter campaign in which debates about policy took a back seat to personal attacks between the two front-runners. The campaign also underscored regional divisions that hurt Mr. Scheer’s performance in Quebec while strengthening his hold on Western Canada, though increased support on the Prairies did little to boost his party’s overall standings.
Conservative strategist Tim Powers, who is vice-chairman of Summa Strategies, said Mr. Scheer’s leadership could survive, at least in the short term. Mr. Scheer will get credit for shaving Mr. Trudeau’s government down to a minority, Mr. Powers said, adding that Conservatives may want to see how the new minority Parliament functions before diving into a leadership race.
“I think he initially will get support for all of that because people will put this in context,” Mr. Powers said. “A year and a half ago, no one would have thought that this thing would be competitive.”
He noted that former prime minister Stephen Harper, who similarly cut Paul Martin’s Liberals to a minority in 2004, stayed on as leader and went on to win two years later. Mr. Powers suggested that Mr. Scheer has a strong argument that he be given the same chance.
The Conservative platform, which centred around balancing the federal budget and cutting taxes, was not enough to persuade a seemingly fractured electorate. And while Mr. Scheer’s focus on Mr. Trudeau’s ethical failures such as the SNC-Lavalin affair and multiple photos of him in blackface damaged the Liberal Leader, those issues ultimately proved not to be fatal.
“In spite of the fact that the Liberals were in trouble, he didn’t seem to have a really strong vision of what he was trying to do except get rid of Trudeau,” said Penny Collenette, former director of appointments in the Prime Minister’s Office under Jean Chrétien, now an adjunct law professor at the University of Ottawa.
Mr. Scheer cast himself as an accessible everyman who would bring a measured approach to governing, contrasting himself with Mr. Trudeau’s celebrity-like persona and warning that continued Liberal deficits would do irreparable damage to the economy. Mr. Scheer also attempted to strike a middle ground in the climate-change debate, promising to cancel the federal carbon tax while placing the burden on large industrial emitters. He insisted that the country can confront climate change without impeding resource development.
At the same time, opponents warned Mr. Scheer he would impose painful austerity measures and said he had not taken climate change seriously. He faced criticism of his past positions on same-sex marriage and abortion, and questions about his résumé and the revelation that he is a dual Canadian-U.S. citizen. Maxime Bernier and the People’s Party also presented new competition from the right.
Dennis Matthews, another conservative strategist who is a vice-president at the national communications company Enterprise Canada, said the Conservatives faced long odds in the years following the 2015 election, as Mr. Trudeau’s popularity appeared to insulate him from scandals that would have seriously wounded other politicians. When Mr. Scheer was elected leader, expectations were low.
“If you look back in time to 2015, you couldn't find a Conservative anywhere who thought in four years that Trudeau was beatable,” he said.
“That’s partly why there was a [Conservative Party] leadership race that produced so many different candidates and didn’t really coalesce around anything. People viewed this as a long march.”
Jamie Ellerton, who managed media on the road during Mr. Scheer’s election campaign, said Monday’s outcome was not what the party wanted but he pointed to encouragement for the party in the results.
“We’ve picked up seats in every region of the country,” he said.
There is going to be a stronger Conservative opposition returning to Ottawa, Mr. Ellerton said.
“That caucus is going to be united in continuing to hold Justin Trudeau to account and look at how we can grow our support among Canadians going forward,” he said.
Mr. Scheer, now a 40-year-old father of five, was first elected to the House of Commons in 2004 at the age of 25 in the federal riding of Regina-Qu’Appelle.
He went on to become the youngest Speaker of the House of Commons in history.
In 2017, Mr. Scheer took over the helm of his party after a neck-and-neck leadership race with Mr. Bernier, a Quebec MP who went on to found the People’s Party of Canada.
The Conservative platform included a range of tax measures, including a broad “universal tax cut” on the lowest income bracket, as well as the return of Harper-era credits for children’s fitness, arts and public transit.
He also presented the party’s climate-change plans in affordability terms, promising to eliminate the carbon tax by Jan. 1 and putting forward a plan that would target large emitters rather than consumers. The pitch was designed to connect with voters, particularly in Western Canada, who are concerned that the Liberal government made fighting climate change a priority at the expense of the economy.