Justin Trudeau’s gamble on winning a majority backfired. Still, whatever outrage Canadians felt about marching to the polls amid a pandemic didn’t cost him much (beyond the $600 million expense of the election itself). The Liberal party returned with an almost identical seat count as the one they started with. All the other parties had an equally uneventful night. In 338 ridings, of course, there were plenty of individual surprises – candidates expected to win lost and longshots saw victories – but it all amounted to a wash in the big picture.
Aside from Trudeau’s personal ambition to turn a minority government into a majority, the election turned out to be about not much. The handling of the pandemic, the economy, the environment, foreign affairs – all the usual topics got their time in the limelight but none captured the passion of voters. The ballot question, if there was one, turned out to be, quite simply, more of the same, yes or no? And Canadians responded: meh.
The campaign began inauspiciously, with a split screen showing Trudeau visiting Rideau Hall at the very moment all hell broke loose in Afghanistan. Foreign affairs are rarely a defining factor in Canadian elections, and this one was no different. Canada’s sometimes wishy-washy foreign policy will likely be unaltered. Barring some dramatic shift, Canada will probably continue to placate the Chinese government rather than confront them, go along to get along at the United Nations and walk a mushy middle ground on Israel and Palestine.
Equally unchanged, presumably, will be Canada’s domestic policies. The economy is doing well, especially given the challenges of the pandemic, and voters seemed to neither reward nor punish the governing party.
On the campaign trail, we saw alarming images of vitriol and even some violence. Voices of rage drove some of the fringe movements, like the People’s Party, to surprising levels of support, but gratefully their xenophobia and base hatreds will not be represented in the House of Commons. That particular incarnation of far-right extremism will ideally dissipate in the aftermath of their electoral failure.
Yet, voters who before thought that a prime minister dissolving Parliament to seek a majority mandate is hardly an unknown phenomenon in our system may now look at the status quo that resulted from the 36-day campaign with even more cynicism. As it stands, Trudeau survived. But, in the end, what was the election about? The answer appears to be … nothing.