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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, wave to supporters at the Palais des Congres in Montreal after claiming victory in the election. CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters

Election exposes some deep divisions

  • October 23, 2019

OTTAWA -- The results of Canada’s federal election point to a deeply divided electorate, but some observers are hopeful that a minority government may force Canadians and the federal parties to work together in a spirit of co-operation. 

“I agree with some of the commentary from election night that what we will be seeing is that the parties are going to be forced to work together and there will be a need for more dialogue and more public involvement in making decisions,” said Natalie Appleyard, a socio-economic policy analyst with Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ).

The Oct. 21 election saw the governing Liberals earn 157 seats but lose their majority, while the Conservatives improved by 22 seats from their pre-election standing. However, even with an edge in the country-wide popular vote (34.4 per cent to 33), the Conservatives only hold 121 seats in the 338-seat House of Commons. Meanwhile, the Bloc Quebecois vaulted into third-party status with 32 seats, ahead of the NDP’s 24.

While the CPJ, a Christian organization that advocates for social and environmental justice in Canadian public policy with a focus on poverty, ecological justice and refugee rights, sees it as potentially good news that a Liberal minority government will need support from the NDP and Green parties on some key issues, Appleyard said the opinions of those who supported other parties such as the Conservatives must be respected.

“It is important to hear what conservative voters have been saying and not just ignore that,” she said of the path ahead for Canada’s newest government. “Their needs and concerns must be taken seriously and not ignored.”

The so-called “progressive vote” of the Liberals, NDP and Greens taken together earned 55 per cent support from the electorate. 

That may be good news for those who want action on such issues as the environment and poverty reduction, but unsettling for those who place a premium on such life issues as abortion and euthanasia. With respect to foreign aid, the election result means Canada will continue Liberal policy to promote an abortion agenda in the developing world, where a Conservative government would have implemented deep cuts in aid spending.

The Bloc vote in Quebec will align that party with the “progressives” on many environmental issues, but the Bloc’s strong support of Quebec’s controversial religious symbols law Bill 21 will dismay those who hoped election night might signal a victory for religious freedom in that province.

Daniel Weinstock of the Faculty of Law at McGill University in Montreal said at the outset of the election that the dynamics among Quebec voters in Quebec would play an important role in the election results.

“The Quebec electorate is quite volatile,” Weinstock said. “SNC-Lavalin and Bill 21 play very differently in Quebec as opposed to other parts of the country. How the federal leaders and local candidates negotiate this will be a fascinating angle of this election.” 

Indeed, Canadians who hoped the election could influence the government response to religious freedom in light of Bill 21 have little to cling to. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were the only federal party to indicate a willingness to possibly challenge Bill 21, but with a minority government and the Bloc’s strong support for Bill 21, chances are slim that a minority government will fight that battle.

In the West, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan which voted overwhelmingly Conservative, there is perhaps even deeper discontent about a nation that, in terms of popular vote, is Conservative yet will be governed by the “progressive parties.”

In his victory speech, Trudeau emphasized his new government would govern for all Canadians regardless of who they voted for, but then emphasized the progressive nature of what his government would advocate.

“You have asked us to invest in Canadians, to reconcile with the Indigenous people and make it a priority and to show even more vision and ambition where we are fighting against the biggest challenge of our times, climate change.

“It is exactly what we will do, we know there is a lot of work to do, but I give you my word, we will continue what we started,” Trudeau said.

For many conservative-leaning Canadians, that is not a happy prospect. The pro-life Campaign Life Coalition issued a blistering critique of the Liberal re-election.

“Under his previous tenure, Justin Trudeau legalized euthanasia, discriminated against Canadians who didn’t adhere to his pro-abortion views, expanded abortion access in Canada, and committed billions of Canadian tax dollars to funding and advocating for abortion overseas,” read a post-election statement.

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