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Federal Election 2021: Groundhog Day

Justin Trudeau poses for a photo in Montreal Metro station

Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The results of yesterday’s federal election are clear: very little has changed since 2019. If at all.

Indeed, Election Day gave us a clear case of deja vu: each political party essentially stayed put, with roughly the same number of seats. And the incumbent Liberal government will once again head a minority parliament.

NATIONAL is conducting a detailed analysis on what this new parliament will mean for Canadian businesses and organizations. In the meantime, however, we offer some early “day after” considerations:

Liberal Party

For the Trudeau government, a win is a win. And it’s the Prime Minister’s third federal victory—no small feat. Yet overall—given the Liberals’ desire for a majority—these 158 seats (at the time of writing) amount to a relative disappointment. Make no mistake about it: the Liberals wanted a majority mandate and believed that their strong management of the pandemic would be rewarded by the trust of Canadians. They were mistaken. But given how the campaign started for the Liberals—poorly, that is—to grow their seat count is an accomplishment. In some ways, this victory, snatched from the jaws of defeat, can be seen as reassuring for the Liberal troops. The Liberals held their dominance of Ontario, performed well in Quebec, held their core B.C. seats, and also added a foothold in Alberta—a province where they were shut out in the 2019 election. However, they also lost three Cabinet Ministers and lost the popular vote for the second consecutive election. Justin Trudeau’s victory speech alluded to listening to the message sent and focusing on delivering for Canadians. The likelihood of an election in the next 18 months appears unlikely. And Confederation, overwhelmingly made up of conservative-leaning premiers, will continue to be a thorn in his side.

Conservative Party

Erin O’Toole boldly shifted his party to the centre, articulated a plan focused on the working class, and made sure not to repeat his predecessor’s mistake, by quickly and clearly articulating his pro-choice values. Pegged to lose badly at the onset, the Conservative Party spent weeks ahead in the polls, but consistently trailing in terms of seat counts. The CPC, once again, won the popular vote, a consolation prize it can build upon. Despite inroads in the Maritimes, the party was unable to truly threaten the Liberals in Ontario. The English debate, which propped up the Bloc Québécois, might have cost the Conservatives a few seats in Quebec, despite the high-profile endorsement of Premier François Legault. The modest rise of the PPC also may have hindered them in the final stretch. All in all, the reconnection with their Progressive-Conservative roots did note accomplish the desired outcome. Erin O’Toole is likely going to get another chance at the helm of the party. Yet he struggled to really enhance his name recognition and will have to contend with a Western caucus bound to challenge the party’s new political orientation.

Bloc Québécois

The Bloc Québécois openly targeted 40 seats. By this mere admission, yesterday’s results are disappointing. Leader Yves-François Blanchet had a difficult start to the campaign. He spent days cornered by the media when trying to justify his support for the Quebec City-Lévis “third link” project, a position taken to win additional seats in the Quebec City area, which he ultimately failed to accomplish. Blanchet’s superior debating skills were tested: the charismatic public speaker appeared antagonistic at times. However, the lone English debate gave him an unexpected present: a poorly worded question that gave most Quebecers the impression that the defence of their identity could be seen as discriminatory. This gave Mr. Blanchet a last-minute boost which ultimately translated into a more satisfying result. The Bloc wanted to emerge as Quebec’s number one federal party: however, it continues to trail the Liberals. Has the Bloc met its ceiling? Do Quebecers really need a watchdog in Ottawa when they have arguably Canada’s strongest and most influential Premier?

New Democratic Party

The NDP’s modest gains (+3 seats) constitute a mixed bag of results. On one hand, there were small victories, including managing to hold on to its lone Quebec seat. On the other hand, while insiders and pundits have largely focused on Jagmeet Singh’s inability to revive the Orange Wave, the party’s seat count simply hasn’t advanced under Mr. Singh in two consecutive elections. He is widely seen as charismatic and a good campaigner. But the party hasn’t been able to “out progressive” the Liberals, who have owned the centre-left since 2015, nor has the NDP made inroads with young and racialized communities of urban centres, notably in the GTA, constituencies the NDP leader had vowed to court and win over back in 2017. Mr. Singh also had to carry the stigma that he was targeting a party (the LPC) it helped govern for the better part of 18 months. Firmly entrenched as the social conscience of Parliament, questions around the party’s intentions to one day win power are bound to come to the surface.

Green Party

The Green Party was never truly in the federal race. Annamie Paul failed to win back the trust of her team. She isolated herself in the downtown Toronto riding she was coveting, a Liberal stronghold that was always unlikely to give her a chance, which was proven by her humiliating fourth-place finish. But worse: some Green candidates openly stated that they simply did not want to campaign with her. Former leader Elizabeth May, who will be back for a fourth term, remains in parliament along with her new colleague from Ontario. The resulting two-seat performance will mean the inevitable departure of Ms. Paul. The Greens have virtually no momentum, at the worst possible time, with a climate change crisis getting increasingly more prevalent. Which begs the question: is climate change truly a ballot question?

People’s Party of Canada

Discounted at the onset of the campaign, absent from all three leaders’ debate, the party still managed to make its mark, by embracing the anti-vaxxer movement. While Maxime Bernier failed to win back his Beauce seat, he will continue to be a pest for the current class of federal officials, thanks to a surprisingly considerable war chest. And by hitting the 4 percent mark, Mr. Bernier is assured to be at the next leaders’ debate, a platform that will expose his agenda to a wider audience. This is proof that a party can actually “win” something despite coming up short in terms of seats.

So after 36 days, Canadians have returned essentially the same federal parliament. On the policy front: the Liberal win guarantees that their signature childcare agreement will now fully proceed. And the related impacts for sectors such as healthcare, agriculture, innovation, energy, clean tech and others will remain largely the same, short of major shifts by the Liberals.

The bottom line: the next parliament will again require collaboration, compromise and brokering, and any public affairs mandate will require careful planning and engagement with multiple parties regardless of the core objective. There is simply no “straight line” to follow.

NATIONAL’s pan-Canadian Public Affairs team will be carefully parsing the data and implications of Election 2021. Our team of experts is unapparelled in Canada, with deep experience in every major Canadian market, and a footprint across the country. Regardless of the mandate, we are well-positioned to help you achieve your strategic objectives.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Consult our 2021 Federal Election section to get the latest perspectives from our experts.