MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent a lot of time on the campaign trail lamenting the polarization of Canadian politics, but after the Liberals were given a minority government, he promised to do more to bring everyone together.
“One of my favourite prime ministers, Wilfrid Laurier, often talked about patriotism, and the unifying power of common goals and aspirations, and I’ve thought about that a lot since getting into politics,” Trudeau said in his victory speech in Montreal early Tuesday morning.
“I have seen firsthand that there is much more that unites us than divides us,” he said. “Canadians expect us all to focus on our shared vision of a stronger Canada and I intend to work hard to make that a reality.”
The mood at Liberal party election headquarters in Montreal moved from cautious optimism to jubilation throughout the evening as the results started making it clear the Liberals had managed to fight their way back into power.
Still, as the Bloc Quebecois came back with a vengeance, the Liberals were poised to once again be shut out of Alberta and long-time Liberal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale went down to defeat in Saskatchewan, Trudeau said he got the message.
“I’ve heard your frustration and I want to be there to support you,” Trudeau said to voters in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
At the same time, Trudeau made it clear he viewed the results as a sign that Canadians had rejected what Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was offering in what Trudeau had earlier described as one of the dirtiest campaigns Canadians had ever seen.
“Canadians rejected division and negativity,” he said. “They rejected cuts and austerity and they voted in favour of a progressive agenda and strong action on climate change.”
As it was looking more and more like the Liberals were heading into minority-government territory when the results were rolling in Monday night, they were already starting to look ahead to how they would survive in the new Parliament.
The early results from Atlantic Canada showed the Liberals remained strong in the region, but as results from Quebec started coming in, the resurging Bloc Quebecois did serious damage to their chances to form a majority government.
Montreal Liberal MP Marc Miller, who was re-elected Monday night, said that Trudeau is a Quebecer and a Canadian, and that while he does not agree with Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet on sovereignty, he thinks they can find common ground.
“We owe it to each other on progressive issues to move forward together and to reach across the floor, if the case may be, and so too with other parties to advance other progressive agendas,” said Miller, “and those things are entirely reconcilable.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh campaigned strongly against the Liberal decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project for $4.5 billion, but did not include it in his list of six conditions for supporting a minority government.
Miller said he did not want to speculate about how talks might go, but made it clear the Liberals were ready to work with the NDP.
“They certainly represent a progressive voice in this country and more important than the party, the actual people that put them in,” he said.
Steven Guilbeault, a prominent environmentalist who won the downtown Montreal riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie for the Liberals, said there is one party they could not work with.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to work with the Conservatives, definitely,” he said.
Guilbeault noted the Liberals face a challenge in winning over Canadians in Saskatchewan and Alberta, where the party lost the few seats it had.
“The world is going through a transition, whether we like it or not,” he said.
“We need to work much harder to help all of Canadians benefit from that energy transition, and it is more difficult than some parts of the country than others,” he said.
Liberal supporters cheered loudly when they saw that Maxime Bernier, the People’s Party of Canada leader who questions whether climate change is caused by human activity, had lost his long-held seat in the Quebec riding of Beauce, and then hushed for his concession speech.
They were less enthusiastic when they saw that Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former attorney general who resigned from cabinet over how the Liberals handled the SNC-Lavalin affair earlier this year, was successful in her bid to return to Ottawa as an Independent MP.
The Liberals began the campaign framing the election as a choice between continuing their progress on climate change, in reducing poverty and on other issues — hence the campaign slogan “Choose Forward” — and facing cuts from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.
Those Conservatives he was talking about were not always those he was actually fighting in the federal election, however, as Trudeau spoke often about Ontario Premier Doug Ford,a Progressive Conservative who has been unpopular in the province.
Earlier in the campaign, Trudeau was pushing so hard to tie the federal Conservatives to Ford that Scheer told him during the debates he should run for leader of the Ontario Liberals.
Trudeau sought to hold the coalition of progressive voters that helped the Liberals come to power with a strong majority government in 2015, following a campaign based on hope and optimism at a time when Canadians seemed to desire a change.
This time, the Liberals had to contend with disappointment over controversies such as the pipeline project and their choice to abandon electoral reform.
The Liberal campaign was also rocked to its core at the end of its first week, after Time magazine published a yearbook photo of Trudeau in dark makeup at a 2001 “Arabian Nights” party organized by the Vancouver private school were he was a teacher.
Two more instances of Trudeau wearing blackface quickly emerged.
Trudeau apologized for wearing the makeup, which he said he now believes is racist.
Then the polls suggested Trudeau was being threatened from the left, with the New Democrats and Greens rising in popularity and the Bloc Quebecois coming on strongly, too.
That had Trudeau hammering home the message that choosing a “progressive government” is better than choosing a “progressive opposition,” arguing that opposition parties were unable to stop austerity measures brought in by former prime minister Stephen Harper.
Trudeau also campaigned hard for votes that could have gone to the Bloc Quebecois, portraying the Liberal party as one that shares the values of Quebecers on issues like climate change and access to abortion.
The final week of the Liberal campaign moved at a frenetic pace, with Trudeau making six or seven stops a day, moving through southern Ontario, Winnipeg and Calgary on Saturday alone, to hold rallies with enthusiastic crowds.
At times it seemed as if the strategy in those final days relied on him shaking hands — or taking a selfie — with every single eligible voter in Canada.
The strategy was also meant to show Trudeau could still draw crowds of enthusiastic supporters who clamoured for a moment with him, even in places like Calgary where there were protesters outside accusing him of treason.
Laura Vrabie, a Liberal volunteer in the Montreal ridings of Outremont and Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie said earlier Monday night the mood at election-day headquarters felt more subdued than previous Liberal gatherings.
“It’s not as crazy as it was last time. Last time there was a poutine-making station.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 21, 2019.
Joanna Smith and Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press