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Justin Trudeau’s Failed Election Gambit

01 Oct 2021
By Dr Bruce Mabley
Canadians line up to vote. Source: Can Pac Swire

Canada’s snap election has come and gone with little change to report in the seat allocation. The minority Liberal government remains and will require the support of one of the minority parties.

Following the 20 September election, the Canadian people are left wondering whether it was worth calling a snap election during a pandemic costing more than $600 million dollars resulting in almost no change among the political parties. Looking at the seat totals, one can understand that there were more losers than winners.

Justin Trudeau remains prime minister but was unsuccessful in attempting to elect a majority of the 338 representatives in the House of Commons. The Liberal Party won 159 seats, which is an increase of only two from the 2019 election. The snap election was a failure, but Trudeau retains control of the government agenda. The Conservative Party, despite a good campaign in the early going, was unable to make inroads in the big cities despite picking up some new support in the Maritimes and British Colombia. They won 119 seats and obtained 33.7 percent of the popular vote and 1.1 percent more than the Liberals.

The Bloc Québécois (BQ) was also disappointed and did not obtain their goal of 40 seats in Québec. Nonetheless they won 33 seats and could potentially block any major bill brought by the Liberals and perceived to be antithetical to Québec interests. The socialist New Democratic Party (NDP) remained a splinter party and made a strong showing in British Colombia. They won 27 seats. The Green Party won two seats, but its vote collapsed under the weight of party defections and infighting with the leader over the issue of the status of Palestine.

There was one noteworthy surprise. The Peoples Party of Canada (PPC), led by Maxime Bernier, increased its share of the popular vote three times over its last showing in 2019 to five percent. Discontent over measures taken to curb the COVID-19 pandemic and mismanagement of the pandemic in Alberta drove the PPC vote. It was a protest vote against Justin Trudeau and the effort made by Conservative leader Erin O’Toole to move his party’s agenda to the political center.

Continuity or Volatility

One might be tempted to conclude from the results that the election campaign was a continuation of the 2019 one, producing an almost identical outcome. Another minority government headed by the same party with an inconsequential increase of two seats was returned to power. The other parties did not budge much either in seats or vote percentages.

This would be a superficial reading of the electoral consultation, I believe. Let’s start with one of the main turning points in the election: the English language debate. There was only one debate in English, preceded by two in French. The first question of the English debate was a loaded question directed at the BQ leader. The question was about Bill 21 of the Québec National Assembly requiring persons in authority to remove religious headgear when serving the public. Popular in Québec, Bill 21 is one of the key pieces of provincial legislation designed to ensure that Québec remains a secular society. Instead of answering the question, the Bloc leader refused to accept that Bill 21 is discriminatory and fired back.

Within seconds, social media in Québec was translating and disseminating this new example of “Québec bashing.” It virtually saved the BQ campaign, which was going nowhere fast at the time. The questioner and her supporters in the English media were perceived to be anti-Québec by a majority of French language citizens in Québec. The result was an enhanced BQ performance that tipped the balance against the formation of any majority Liberal government.

The English language debate came to be seen as a debate not about different political parties and their campaign promises and slogans but as highjacked by the Anglo-Canadian media for its own ends. The BQ shot up in the polls at the right time and saved the sovereigntist party from a possible defeat.

Other issues were present, such as the O’Toole flip flop on gun control. Liberal strategists had little trouble painting O’Toole into a corner questioning whether the party would be as accepting of his “liberality” in the conduct of social issues once elected. The collapse of the Greens assisted in stabilising any Liberal vote. Although less successful than in 2019 in pushing “progressive” voters to vote Liberal instead of NDP, the Liberals did just enough to ensure keeping a minority government.


Maxime Bernier’s PPC had made significant strides. Attempts by state media and their supporters to ignore the PPC like preventing Bernier from participating in any debates were singularly unsuccessful. Copying the Trump strategy south of the border, Bernier was able to obtain 7.3 percent of the popular vote. In numerical terms, the PPC was a winner despite the odds.

Although the Liberals were publicly supported by former President Barak Obama and ex Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, the Liberal hype did not work. Nor did provincial Premier François Legault of Québec succeed in a rare public call for his province to support O’Toole’s PC or BQ instead of the centralising NDP and Liberals.

Overall, the 2021 federal election illustrates a country that lacks unity and makes a virtue of regionalisation. Western alienation especially driven by the pandemic is rising. Even now, the media spin doctors are predicting an early demise for the PPC, saying it is inextricably linked to the pandemic. This is a stark reminder of how the Trump presidential candidacy was ignored and ridiculed by the traditional Republican Party as ephemeral. The PPC is not ephemeral. It represents a true ras le bol with the political class and their national media acolytes. Ignoring Bernier and the PPC has just given them a significant first political victory.

The Province of Québec is in the throes of French nationalism that is being fueled by English Canadian resentment about Bill 21. The English debate is the tip of the iceberg. The divide between Québec secularism and Anglo Canadian multiculturalism trumpeted by the Liberal Party leaves little doubt about the rocky road ahead. In French Québec, the Anglo “multicultural miracle” looks more like old-style Tammany Hall politics conducted by Justin Trudeau at Québec’s expense. All these factors contributed to another minority government elected by regions and nations.

Canada has taken yet another step in the direction of national self-flagellation. Canada’s foreign policy will continue its relentless slide into narcissistic restlessness.

Dr Bruce Mabley is the author of more than 50 published articles on international political and security issues since 2016. He is presently Director of the Mackenzie-Papineau Group, a grouping of international specialists, diplomats, journalists, researchers, and activists. Dr Mabley is a retired Canadian Foreign Service Officer, university administrator/professor, and international education specialist. Dr Mabley resides in Montréal, Québec.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.