Trudeau vows to 'get back to work,' as Liberals win election but fall short of majority

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is vowing to get “back to work,” after being dealt a second minority government in the 2021 federal election that looks much like the one Canadians elected in 2019.

"You are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get us through this pandemic and to brighter days ahead,” Trudeau said, after thrusting the country into the COVID-19 campaign in hopes of a third term under majority rule.

With 338 seats up for grabs and no path to the prized 170 needed for a majority, CTV News’ Decision Desk declared the Liberals would hold on to power at a pivotal time in the pandemic after a summer federal election like no other.

“I hear you when you say that you just want to get back to the things you love, not worry about this pandemic, or about an election. That you just want to know that your members of Parliament of all stripes will have your back through this crisis, and beyond,” Trudeau said at his Montreal campaign headquarters early Tuesday morning. 

“The moment we face demands real important change, and you have given this Parliament and this government clear direction.”

Results as of 2:45 a.m. EDT on Tuesday show the Liberals elected or leading in 157 ridings, though one elected MP will be sitting as an independent, the Conservatives leading or elected in 120 ridings, the Bloc Quebecois in 33 ridings, the NDP in 26 ridings, and the Greens in two ridings. 

Heading into this race the Liberals held 155 seats, the Conservatives held 119, the Bloc Quebecois 32, the NDP 24, the Green Party had two, and there were five Independent MPs, and one vacancy.

Trudeau called the federal election on Aug. 15, putting an end to his nearly two-year minority Parliament, gambling on the hopes of a majority win. In the coming days the re-elected Trudeau will likely have to address an outcome that shows his party not much, if any further ahead than they were when he called the election on a sunny Sunday morning.

Based on the initial results, the overall seat distribution in the House of Commons does not appear to be shifting considerably, meaning the Liberals will once again have to find dance partners in other opposition parties to pass key legislation and stay afloat.

As results continued to stream in it became clear that Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole's pitch for change had not resonated in the way his party hoped. Looking to the other parties, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has  largely held on to the seats his party held prior to the election call, though an uptick in votes for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s candidates saw the two parties in a nail-biter fight for third-party standing. Green Party Leader Annamie Paul and People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier failed to outseat the incumbents in their ridings.

Thank you, Canada — for casting your vote, for putting your trust in the Liberal team, for choosing a brighter future. We're going to finish the fight against COVID. And we're going to move Canada forward. For everyone.

— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) September 21, 2021

LIBERALS SHORT OF MAJOR GAINS

In launching the country into a fourth-wave federal election, Trudeau set up his re-election bid as a chance for Canadians to have their voices heard about who they want to lead the country out of the COVID-19 crisis, and into a new era of considerable change.

But it appears some of his opponents’ attempts to frame him as self-interested or power-hungry to the point of putting major policies like childcare on the line, stuck in voters’ minds.

Three Liberal cabinet ministers have been unseated, with Bernadette Jordan in South Shore--St. Margarets, N.S., Maryam Monsef in bellwether Peterborough-Kawartha, and Deb Schulte in King-Vaughan all losing to their Conservative opponents.

The first few weeks of this election were the bumpiest for Trudeau, as anti-vaccine protesters became increasingly aggressive, the crisis in Afghanistan dominated headlines, and COVID-19 case counts kept ticking upward.

It was in this time that Canadians appeared to be looking more seriously at change and questioning why the election was called at all given the consistent propping up from progressive parties through the pandemic, despite Trudeau’s insistence that the Chamber had become “toxic” and unworkable in the face of Conservative obstruction.

Following the debates and the release of the Liberals’ $78M platform, polls began to tick up for the party, and then as Trudeau marched across the country in a final push, the difference in approach between the Liberals and O’Toole on vaccines was brought back to centre stage.

Now, expect the Liberal-led federal government to proceed with a vaccine mandate for federal settings, and wrap up some unfinished business on climate change, Indigenous reconciliation, and the ‘she-cession,’ in hopes of cementing some legacy-making policy for Trudeau should his third win be his last.

The prospect of avoiding a pandemic election may have been a motivating factor for the opposition parties to prop up the Liberals over the last while, but whether that same sentiment will be there in the 44th Parliament remains to be seen. That’ll be the test for Trudeau when he convenes the House of Commons and presents a new Speech from the Throne.

O'TOOLE LEADERSHIP IN QUESTION?

While making some gains, the Conservatives failed to dethrone Trudeau despite high hopes from supporters who were buoyed by competitive polling numbers throughout the campaign.

Early on election night Conservative Party officials sought to dismiss reporting that suggested they’d consider holding the Liberals to a minority as a win, but by midnight O’Toole had called Trudeau to concede.

Based on the results that had been counted by 2:30 a.m. EDT, it appears the Conservatives may have once again captured the popular vote, as the Conservatives did in 2019.

In his speech on election night from Durham, Ont., O’Toole spoke about being the leader to take on the Liberals whenever the next election may come. But already the Tory loss has prompted questions over the fate of O’Toole’s leadership, after his predecessor was removed after a rather similar 2019 outcome.

“Ours is a conservativism that dwells not in the past but learns from it to secure the future,” he said.“We will take stock of what worked and what didn’t and we will continue to put in the time showing more Canadians that they are welcome in the Conservative Party of Canada.”

With polls tightening in the final days, O’Toole pivoted from his “positive” campaign approach, going hard with personal attacks aimed at Trudeau, while making the case to prospective vote-splitters that if their main objective was a change in government, their “only option” was to vote Conservative.

O’Toole pitched himself as a more moderate or progressive leader than he presented himself to be during his 2020 leadership race, which resulted in continuing questions about the direction the party would be headed on social and public safety issues if elected. Positioning himself as “the man with the plan” O’Toole leaned heavily on his policy book throughout the race.

While running a campaign that leaned heavily on connecting with Canadians virtually from a TV studio the party set up as a pandemic precaution, O’Toole was dogged all race over his refusal to say how many of his candidates have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

After bringing out former PM Brian Mulroney to endorse him on the same day he pledged that the party he is leading is “not your dad's Conservative party,” O’Toole had to contend with the record of another high-profile conservative: Jason Kenney.

After the Alberta premier announced new lockdown measures, O’Toole was confronted and repeatedly dodged questions about whether he still felt as he once said: that Kenney handled the pandemic better than the federal government.

NAIL-BITER FOR THIRD-PARTY STATUS

All night the Bloc Quebecois and NDP were in a tight race for third-party status, though it appears Blanchet may be holding on to that position.

While the Bloc Quebecois’ hopes of increasing its number of seats in the House of Commons may have been dashed, when it came to the popular vote, the Bloc held a narrow lead over the Liberals in Quebec, with nearly 1.12 million votes as of Tuesday at 1:30 a.m.

After making his way around Quebec over the last five weeks, Blanchet appeared to get his biggest boost in the province based on how he responded to a question to him by the English-language leaders’ debate moderator about Bill 21. While he repeatedly spoke about how unwanted this election was, he also emphasized his preference for no party to win a majority.

“The result is hard to comment,” Blanchet said French in his election night speech. “The percentage is pretty much the same. The amount of seats is about the same. It is about the same for pretty much everyone.”

Singh appeared victorious on election night, despite his party standing largely looking the way it did before his aggressive cross-country campaign. Singh went on the offensive with “unlimited zeal” in ridings the party thought it could win in key regions.

Leveraging a sizable social media following, Singh also used platforms like TikTok and Instagram to get his progressive “tax the rich” message across to millions of Canadians.

The NDP leader leaned heavily over the last 36 days on pointing to what New Democrats were able to negotiate in the last minority Parliament, while pitching a message of hope for a better future.

In his speech from his Burnaby South, B.C. riding Singh vowed to “keep fighting.”

“We are never going to give up fighting for you and your families, as we have done in the pandemic, as we showed you in this campaign… We are connected. When people around us are hurting, we're also hurting, but when we take care of one another, when we support one another, when we lift each other up, we all rise,” Singh said.

BERNIER, PAUL LOSE BIDS FOR SEATS

After being ranked low enough in the polls to not qualify to take part in the 2021 leaders’ debates, the steady rise in support among Canadians who are anti-establishment, anti-lockdown, and anti-vaccine was seen at the ballot box. While Bernier's PPC failed to pick up a single seat, they garnered thousands of votes in many races.

And, after a rocky debut as leader due to internal party conflict and a tenuous financial situation, Paul spent the majority of the 2021 federal election campaign on winning her own riding. Unsuccessful in her third try at it, questions about her future at the helm of that party are set to be a conversation in the coming days.

On the one hand, the Green Party is sending more than one MP to Ottawa for just the second time in its history, including its first ever representing an Ontario riding.

On the other hand, the party appeared to lose a significant amount of the voter support it received in 2019.

“I would say that we're back to the status quo except that we are returning unfortunately more divided and more polarized than before this election was called. That is certainly part of the legacy of this election that I will say we shouldn't have had, whether that sounds self-interested or not," Paul said during her Toronto Centre concession speech.

Congratulations to @MarciIen for her win in Toronto Centre and to all the other candidates who ran to represent this community.

Toronto Centre is a riding that will continue to need help as we emerge from the pandemic and beyond. Hopefully, that support will be delivered.

— Annamie Paul (@AnnamiePaul) September 21, 2021

COVID-19 CHANGES CAMPAIGN

Right off the bat the campaign— the shortest possible election period under federal law— looked and felt different than any past election, because of the pandemic.

Travel itineraries were more pared-down, the main three travelling leaders’ tours used rapid tests daily in addition to requiring all aboard their busses or planes to be fully vaccinated, and instead of nightly jam-packed indoor rallies, virtual or outdoor events with elbow-bumps and masked selfies largely became the new norm.

There were three national debates, including one in English and one in French put on by a debates’ commission; parties pushed out their platforms and the costing of them at different times; candidate controversies hit every party; and campaigns sought to leverage social media and traditional television advertising to promote their leader and offer contrast to their opponents.

How Canadians voted also changed in some ways from past elections. Nearly one million people voted by special mail-in ballots, and another 5.8 million took part in the four days of advance polls, an increase of 18.5 per cent compared to the 2019 election.

COVID-19 protocols at some polling stations resulted in long lines and longer-than-usual wait times at polling stations. Elections Canada also reported a handful of disruptions at polling stations across the country.

While no widespread voting issues have been reported, because of the influx in local mail-in ballots, the final tallies won’t be known until midday Tuesday at the earliest. 

With files from CTV News’ Sarah Turnbull, Solarina Ho, Ryan Flanagan, Ben Cousins, Maggie Parkhill, and Christy Somos.