Canada L. Ian MacDonald: Trudeau's answer to the $600-million question
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Once again, the Liberals have been returned to office with a minority government. Once again, the Conservatives lost despite having won the popular vote (this time by almost two percentage points). And once again, it appears that those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.
So what was that all about? That’s the $600-million question — the cost of an unnecessary election inflicted upon the country for no reason other than the self-absorbed quest of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to gain a majority. Having lost on his own ballot question, Trudeau nevertheless celebrates his return to office for a third term as prime minister.
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He had the grace to acknowledge as much at his late-night appearance in Montreal, telling the voters, “I hear you,” and sounding a theme of “let’s get back to work” in the 44th Parliament. For his part, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole shunned a concession statement, serving notice of his intention to fight on, building a moderate and centrist Conservative party.
In one sense, O’Toole misjudged the occasion, but in another, he was declaring the opening of the Conservative leadership review in a party renowned for devouring leaders who lose.
As for Jagmeet Singh and the NDP, they are obviously disappointed to have won just 25 seats, a gain of only one, and still in fourth place behind the Bloc Québécois. Even so, the New Democrats hold a balance of power on a progressive agenda. As does the Bloc, on the nationalist Quebec side of the conversation, having gained two seats to 34, one more than the Liberals in the province, with the Conservatives still at 10.
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Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet can thank his lucky stars for the unexpected gift he received in the English-language debate, of all places, when he was asked about the “discriminatory” provisions of Quebec’s secularist Bill 21 and the update of its official language law in Bill 96, sparking a huge backlash in Quebec that rallied his party off the island of Montreal.
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It may also have saved the Bloc from a pending loss of about 10 seats to the Liberals. That’s now just a hypothetical footnote, but had it proven to be the case, it would have carried Trudeau to the doorstep of a majority. That’s one of the reasons he called the election in the first place.
What the Liberals never imagined then was the degree to which they would annoy Canadians, nor did they take account of the surging fourth wave of the pandemic, or the unexpected collapse of the Afghan government, the return of the Taliban and the abandonment of those who helped western forces, including Canada’s.
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Never mind. Trudeau and the Liberals were saved by the efficiency of their vote in the Greater Toronto Area. Their vote also proved surprisingly efficient in Metro Vancouver. With only 27 per cent of the vote in British Columbia, the Grits won 15 seats in the Lower Mainland, while the Conservatives and NDP won only 13 seats each, with 33 and 28 per cent of the popular vote, respectively.
The irony of this, of course, is that when Trudeau first took office with a majority in 2015, he famously declared it would be the last election under first-past-the-post. Having now been saved twice by the same system, he is no longer an advocate of electoral reform.
Never mind. Trudeau has won by not losing. Looking forward, he gets to do a cabinet shuffle, call Parliament after Thanksgiving, put out a fall economic statement in November and a new budget in the spring.
That’s his answer to the $600-million question.
L. Ian MacDonald, editor of Policy Magazine, is a former national affairs columnist with the Montreal Gazette.
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