Jagmeet Singh bopped into the NDP’s election-night party like he had just surfed an orange wave. Andrew Scheer said the Conservatives took a big step forward. Elizabeth May counted her Green Party as one of two winners. Justin Trudeau beamed while he spoke of a clear mandate.
Why are all these losers smiling?
None of these leaders really triumphed. The only one who did was Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, lifting his party from the dead with a promise to speak for Quebec.
The others have one main reason to be pleased: It could have been worse.
Mr. Trudeau is still Prime Minister, so in the basic sense, he won. But he didn’t win a clear mandate, he lost one. His party lost seats. He went, in just one term, from being the country’s unbeatable, new-politics, celebrity Prime Minister to a worn politician who struggled to eke out a minority. On election night, a reporter asked cabinet minister Pablo Rodriguez if Mr. Trudeau is now a liability: “He’s the Prime Minister,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “That says a lot.” The answer does, too.
There’s relief. It was close. But that’s because Mr. Trudeau squandered his political advantage with unforced errors over the past 18 months, with the SNC-Lavalin affair topping it off. He ran a bad campaign in which he often failed to explain why people should vote Liberal, as opposed to why they should vote against the others.
He can smile at silver linings. His minority is large enough that he needs the support of only one other party to win a vote in the Commons, and those parties are so weakened they won’t be itching for a snap election. The Bloc is short of money. Mr. Trudeau doesn’t have to worry too much about survival for six months, and his minority could last two years.
Why was Mr. Singh dancing on election night? It’s true he enjoyed a little late-campaign bump. Voters who were unenthusiastic about the hissing between Mr. Scheer and Mr. Trudeau saw the debates and discovered he was likeable. But he was hurdling over his low expectations. The NDP lost 20 seats from its tally in 2015. It is in fourth place. It was a loss.
The NDP can hold the balance of power, but not a lot of leverage. The Liberals can look to occasional support from the Bloc, or even the Conservatives. The NDP is broke and not ready for a quick rematch.
The Green Party’s Ms. May touted a gain in seats, to three from two. But the Greens once threatened to displace the NDP as the third party – and instead finished far behind. Ms. May’s popularity fell. And opportunity was scorned.
There has never been an election in which so many wanted to cast a protest vote about a climate-change emergency, yet the Green platform distracted from that focus by declaring an urgent need for everything now, with free tuition, guaranteed income, pharmacare and more.
Then there is Mr. Scheer, whose party won the popular vote, gained seats, and cut a first-term government down to a minority. But in fact, Mr. Scheer wasn’t really smiling. He gave a partisan speech on election night. He was making the case to keep his leadership.
Mr. Trudeau, after all, had been on the ropes. And Mr. Scheer failed to win the middle ground. He tripped over his own feet repeatedly. He looked shifty refusing to describe his personal views on abortion, then suddenly did. Tory ads called Mr. Trudeau “not as advertised,” but it emerged Mr. Scheer fudged his résumé and hadn’t revealed he was a U.S. citizen. He called Mr. Trudeau a liar unfit for office, but oddly, didn’t set himself up as the decent, honourable alternative: Instead, he defended his war room while it was slinging falsehoods. Yes, his party’s seats went up, but so did his negatives. That’s a hurdle for the next campaign.
Perhaps the biggest failure of all four is that Mr. Blanchet is the only winner. He had Bill 21 and a field of opponents Quebeckers didn’t find compelling. The Bloc tripled its seats to 32. That gives Mr. Blanchet influence in Parliament. And if it retains that strength in the next election, it will be harder for any PM to win a majority.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.