| 14 April 2024, Sunday |

Clock starts ticking for Canada’s Trudeau after bid for majority fails

After a low-energy campaign in the midst of the pandemic, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to secure a Liberal majority government, and party insiders believe he will step down before the next election.

Trudeau, 49, called the election two years early in order to take advantage of his government’s handling of COVID-19. However, preliminary results show that he was elected to another minority administration, forcing him to deal with opposition members once again.

Four senior Liberals said there was no evidence of a planned effort to depose Trudeau, who has exerted tight control over a party that has been plagued by infighting in the past.

However, falling short of his target in his third election threw immediate doubt on his leadership’s future and may prompt him to resign on his own. Since more than a century, no prime leader has won four elections in a row. In 1979, Trudeau’s father attempted but failed.

“At this point, we are his party,” said a Liberal who assisted with the campaign but asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the situation.

“I’m not sure I’d want to run again if I were him… You don’t want to overstay your welcome to the point where your successor is voted out in the following election.”

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, both heavyweight cabinet members, are potential successors.

Trudeau, a charismatic progressive and the son of former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, was elected Prime Minister of Canada in 2015. However, after six years in office, voters had become tired of the Liberal leader.


Trudeau decided to call a snap vote after opposition legislators blocked his budget and other bills during a charged June session, three well-placed sources said.

“The events of June made clear we had to go to the polls in the summer. It was just too painful – we couldn’t go through that again,” said one Liberal.

But from the day Trudeau made the call on Aug 15, he had trouble dealing with opposition accusations that it was a power grab.

“There was a recoil (by voters). Trudeau said ‘I have good numbers. I can go into an election,’ not realizing that he had good numbers because there was no election,” said Philippe Fournier, analyst at the political website.

Other insiders said Trudeau and his inner circle had failed to realize that the people they would need to run the campaign were exhausted after 15 months fighting COVID-19.

Half way through, a second Liberal said campaign workers were “just so tired, they don’t care if they win or lose.”

In response, Trudeau spokesman Cameron Ahmad said “campaign staff worked incredibly hard every step of the way, as they always do.” He did not address questions about Trudeau’s future or whether the early election call had been a mistake.

One senior strategist said canvassers knocking on doors were picking up unhappiness with Trudeau.

Still, even as Trudeau’s numbers began to fall in August, Liberal campaign officials initially expressed little concern.

“These first two weeks are just froth, there’s nothing to it. Nobody’s paying attention much,” said a third Liberal.

Asked about the minority, the first Liberal said: “it is what it is .. Canadians decided that’s what they wanted.”

Among the public, Trudeau himself generated more fatigue than excitement.

“The problem was that right from the start, we never came up with a good answer to the obvious question of ‘Why are you calling an unnecessary election in the middle of a pandemic?'” a Liberal strategist said towards the end of the campaign as it became clear a majority was not on the cards.

After the election, Liberals sketched out a possible scenario whereby Trudeau would make clear he intended to keep the government alive for at least three years, giving him time to focus on priorities such as child care and battling climate change while pondering his future.

Trudeau is due to speak publicly this week and could offer details on what he is planning.

A senior adviser and a senior lawmaker said Trudeau did not want to be in power forever, but would fight a fourth campaign if the government falls before he can push through significant parts of his agenda.

Minority governments usually last about 18 months but in theory can last four years if no-one brings them down.


Trudeau, who has three young children, became a Liberal legislator in 2008 and took over the leadership in 2013 at a point when its future looked dark. Two years later he became the first Canadian leader to ever take a party from third place to victory.

“The main question becomes, is he having fun? I don’t think the next phase of this pandemic is going to be fun, I don’t think our fiscal situation is going to be fun,” said another well-placed advisor, putting the chances of Trudeau deciding in early 2023 he would leave at 50-50.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this was Trudeau’s last election .. winning three back-to-back is hard,” said Tamara Small, professor of Political Science at the University of Guelph.

The Conservatives, who have now lost three consecutive elections, may again end up seeking a new leader.

Although the Conservatives won more of the popular vote than the Liberals for the second consecutive election, Trudeau’s lock on Toronto ensured he ended up ahead.

The Liberals and the New Democrats led by Jagmeet Singh – who favors heavy spending on social programs – have a comfortable majority in the 338-seat House of Commons.

Waiting for her son to speak after falling short of his majority goal, his mother Margaret Trudeau, with whom he is very close, was confident a minority government would work out.

“You don’t want too much power to end up anywhere, do you?” she told reporters. “I know that Jagmeet is a wonderful man, compassionate like Justin.”

  • Reuters