November 19, 2019

A Brutal Election in Canada Comes to an End

“Justin Trudeau didn’t lose the Canadian federal election outright, but he had about as bad an outcome as possible short of that. His Liberal Party lost 27 seats in the House of Commons. More ominously, his share of the popular vote dropped 6.5 points, from 39.5 percent in the 2015 election to 33 percent in this year’s. Canada’s Conservatives, who came second in the seat count, won the largest share of the popular vote, 34.4 percent.

Trudeau’s party suffered these losses despite a generally favorable economy in Ontario and Quebec, the heartland of the Liberal Party. This formerly bright, shining face of hope and change was weighted down by ethics scandals and an embarrassing sequence of personal missteps. Those missteps are famous around the world: Trudeau was captured on camera wearing blackface multiple times before his entry into politics. The scandals are not often remarked upon outside Canada, but they matter inside. Trudeau violated conflicts-of-interest rules to accept an expensive vacation and intervened in a criminal case to protect a business corporation with close ties to his party.

The Conservative slogan, “Not as advertised,” bit deep and drew blood.

What buoyed Trudeau was an issue of rising importance globally and in Canada: climate change. Trudeau’s government took painful policy action on climate change, imposing a carbon tax. Conventional political wisdom might have predicted doom. Instead, even Conservative canvassers found as they knocked on doors that Canadians were willing to pay for environmental benefits. Trudeau’s pollsters must have heard the same message. The second substantive sentence out of Trudeau’s mouth on election night hailed the result as a vote for “strong action on climate change.””

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