Strange business, politics. While a bit short of a majority, Justin Trudeau wins a third successive election by a large margin in the seat count. Yet some critics say he should be put out to pasture.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh suffered a drubbing in the 2019 election, losing almost half his party’s seats. With much higher expectations, he did badly again in Monday’s vote, electing (pending mail-in vote counts) only one more member. Yet hardly anyone says a word.
For a vanity election, a power grab that went awry, Mr. Trudeau certainly warrants reproach. It is tempered, however, by the fact that he still won – and won handily. Canadians gave him not a high grade, but a passing one.
Under the banner of the Trudeaus, Pierre and Justin, the Liberal Party has now won seven of eight elections. Trudeau the elder went four for five. Hard as this may sound for the legions of detractors, the track record makes the Trudeau name one of the most successful political brands ever seen in Western democracies. Even the record of the Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin, doesn’t quite match up.
But Pierre Trudeau was viscerally polarizing and his son, despite preaching inclusivity, is somewhat similar. He grates. Hostility, directed at his person more than his policies, is intense in many quarters, media included.
In the summer, many of us in the media predicted – and not in a terribly disapproving way – that he would call the early election because it was the smart thing politically to do – just as it was for Stephen Harper when he forced an election in a bid for a majority in 2008. But as soon as Mr. Trudeau made the call, we denounced him for doing so.
Mr. Harper fell 12 seats short of a majority, about the same number as Mr. Trudeau. Had it not been for a question in the English debate deemed insulting to Quebeckers, which revived the Bloc Québécois, he may well have won his majority. Liberals realize this, appreciate what the Trudeau brand has meant, and will let him write his own ticket.
As for Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, the trollers should ease off. His bid to broaden the tent by moving his party in a more moderate direction is a commendable course. It is more stabilizing for the country. It is how Tories of old – like Brian Mulroney, John Diefenbaker, and John A. Macdonald – won big victories.
If any of the major party leaders should consider stepping down, it is Mr. Singh. He is a fine man with a deep social conscience who is well liked. But it doesn’t translate to votes.
For the NDP to grow, it is essential that the party have a base in Quebec. Jack Layton worked determinedly (along with Tom Mulcair) to build one and won a remarkable 59 seats there in 2011. The NDP became the Official Opposition party, reducing the Liberals to third place until the Trudeau appeal revived it in the 2015 election.
In that campaign, when Mr. Mulcair took a principled stand in support of a woman’s right to wear a niqab, support collapsed and the party fell to just 16 Quebec members. But it was still enough to hold a base, especially with a Quebecker as leader.
But in a foolhardy, precipitous move, the party dumped Mr. Mulcair. It then turned to Mr. Singh, who had no presence in the province. The religious symbols issue has dogged him. He faced an uphill battle in a province that has banned civil servants from wearing religious symbols through Bill 21 because he proudly and appropriately wears religious symbols himself. Under him, the party holds just one Quebec seat.
In the rest of the country, he had a splendid opportunity to make sizable gains. Working in his favour was the animosity toward Mr. Trudeau, the collapse of the Greens, a financial war-chest twice as big as in 2019 and a media that was uncritical. But try as he might, Mr. Singh has been unable to make a breakthrough.
His old-hat platform didn’t sufficiently contrast with that of the Liberals. Fearing the election of a Conservative government, party supporters, as has happened before, moved into the Trudeau column on voting day. The NDP won only 25 seats.
In Quebec, the party’s one member is the impressive Alexandre Boulerice, who, if interested, could make a strong leader. The party holds a leadership review every two years. At the next one it should carefully size up Mr. Singh’s prospects. They do not look promising.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.