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Ontario and Quebec keep the Liberals in power and the Conservatives out

Ontario and Quebec keep the Liberals in power and the Conservatives out


The Liberals lost support in every province across Canada in yesterday’s federal election, and it cost them their majority government.

But it wasn’t enough to cost them power.

Justin Trudeau will remain prime minister because voters in Quebec and Ontario didn’t want to give the job to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

The Liberals took a beating from coast to coast. With 33 per cent of the vote, the party lost 6.5 percentage points from the last federal election in 2015. It put the Liberals behind the Conservatives, who jumped 2.5 points to a little more than 34 per cent.

For the first time since 1979, the party that won the most votes didn’t win the most seats — and by a healthy margin.

With 157 seats, the Liberals have a big minority government. But nearly three-quarters of the Liberal caucus will hail from just two provinces, Ontario and Quebec, while two other provinces — Alberta and Saskatchewan — won’t have a single member sitting on the governing benches.

That alone explains much of what happened last night.

Ontario electoral map doesn’t look that different

The Liberal vote in Ontario and Quebec held up pretty well. In Quebec, the Liberals dropped to 34 per cent support, a little more than a percentage point from 2015. In the process, the Liberals lost six seats to the Bloc Québécois, which surged by about 13 percentage points in the province — though not enough to topple the Liberals as the most popular party in Quebec.

In Ontario, the Liberals were down only about three percentage points, still managing to take over 41 per cent of the vote in the province and outpacing the Conservatives by a significant margin. That only cost the Liberals a net loss of one seat.

The key for the Liberals was holding their vote in the decisive Greater Toronto Area. They swept all 25 of Toronto’s seats and even increased their share of the vote slightly. They also came out of the surrounding suburbs with 24 of 29 seats — identical to where they were on election night in 2015.

Losses to the Conservatives in a handful of rural ridings were made up for with a few gains in southwestern Ontario. Electorally, the province doesn’t look much different than it did four years ago.

And that is why the Conservatives came up short.

Conservative gains not where they needed them

With disappointing results in Atlantic Canada — the Conservatives captured just four seats — and underwhelming performances in Quebec, the significant gains the Conservatives made in Western Canada were not nearly enough. The GTA was always the most important place for Scheer to make gains if he was to win this election. It didn’t happen. Instead, the Conservative share of the vote dropped by about five points in the region.

There was something about the Conservative message that didn’t resonate with Ontarians. Everywhere else in the country outside of Quebec the Conservative vote went up. The gains were most significant in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, where the party’s share of the vote jumped by double-digits.

But there were only so many new seats to grab in that part of the country. The Conservatives took back the four seats in Alberta they lost to the Liberals in 2015 and swept all of Saskatchewan. Two Liberal seats in the suburbs around Winnipeg also fell to the Conservatives.

Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland handily won her Toronto riding of University-Rosedale Monday night, part of a Liberal sweep of the Greater Toronto Area. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Those are important gains for the Conservatives, including the defeat of Liberal cabinet ministers Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton Mill Woods and Ralph Goodale in Regina–Wascana. It was this surge in support in Western Canada — which did not pay off much in terms of seat gains — that is behind the Conservatives’ popular vote win.

Just look at Alberta. Only one of the 33 Conservatives elected in the province failed to get a majority of ballots cast in their riding. Most of them get more than 70 per cent of the vote.

But that just ran up the numbers where the Conservatives already held seats. It was the Liberals’ ability to hold on to their seats in Central and Eastern Canada by narrower margins that made the difference. In all, the Liberals lost 15 seats west of Ontario, more than their combined losses east of the Lakehead.

NDP, Greens struggle to get their vote out

Another factor that contributed to the somewhat unexpected scale of the Liberal win was the performance of the New Democrats and the Greens.

The Greens, who have historically underperformed compared to polling expectations in virtually every election at both the federal and provincial levels, stayed true to that tradition. Their support was slipping in the final days of the campaign and dropped to just 6.5 per cent on election night — a disappointing result considering that the Greens managed to get 6.8 per cent of the vote in the 2008 federal election when they failed to win a single seat.

The party held its two seats on Vancouver Island but wasn’t able to make the hoped-for gains in the region. A win in Fredericton looks more like an exception — the result of the increased popularity of the Green brand in Atlantic Canada following provincial breakthroughs in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, along with a collapse of the NDP vote in these two provinces.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer increased his party’s support but was unable to win new seats in the Greater Toronto Area. (Michael Bell / Canadian Press)

But it was the performance of the New Democrats that was more of a surprise. While the Greens were trending down, the NDP was riding some momentum going into election day. In the end, the NDP performance didn’t match its polling, taking about 16 per cent of the vote nationwide when most polls showed the party in the 18 to 19 per cent range.

This underachievement was most obvious in seats in which the NDP has historically had some strength and should have been more competitive. In Atlantic Canada, the NDP finished a distant third in Acadie-Bathurst and was about 12 points behind the Liberals in Halifax.

Some of the seats targeted by the NDP in central Toronto were won by the Liberals by big margins: 14 percentage points in Toronto–Danforth and 16 points in Parkdale–High Park. Conservative gains in the Toronto suburbs was one thing the Liberals had to be worried about. NDP progress in the downtown core was the other. Neither happened.

Climate of change in Quebec

Quebec maintained its reputation as the most volatile province in recent Canadian elections. Fully 25 of its 78 seats changed hands — nearly as much as the rest of the country combined. 

While a few individual Liberal candidates knocked off some NDP incumbents, on the whole, there were a lot of losses in Quebec. The Liberals dropped six seats, the NDP lost all but one of its seats and the Conservatives fell from 12 Quebec MPs in 2015 to 10. People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier was defeated.

The Bloc returned with a vengeance, just finishing behind the Liberals in the popular vote and taking 32 seats, the party’s best performance since the 2008 election and a result that suggests the Bloc was the top choice of francophones in the province.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his wife, Gurkiran Kaur, greet supporters during an election night party in Burnaby, B.C. The NDP fell short of the support some polls had predicted, ending the night with 16 per cent of the vote. (Darryl Dyck / Canadian Press)

With the exception of the traditional Liberal strongholds of Montreal, Laval and the Outaouais, the Bloc won every region of the province — even knocking off a few Conservative incumbents in the Quebec City region. It was largely at the expense of the New Democrats that the Bloc made its return, with only NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice in Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie surviving the cull.

What’s the path to a majority now?

It raises a few questions about the future of every party in the House of Commons.

Where do the New Democrats go from here in Quebec, the province that took them to official opposition party status in 2011 and put them in the running to form a government in 2015?

What do the Greens have to do to make sure their support doesn’t disappear on election day?

And is the Bloc back for good?

The questions for the Conservatives and Liberals are more existential. The future of both parties looks murky when the Liberals have been pushed out of much of Western Canada and francophone Quebec. The Conservatives activated their base once again, but they lack representation in some of Canada’s biggest cities and took a significant step backwards in their outreach to Quebec.

Unless either party can figure out how to reconnect with these electorates, neither will be in the running to form a majority government in the near future. In the short term, it’s all about making the next Parliament function. In the longer term, it is about bridging the divides that are polarizing the country — and potentially making minority governments all the more likely.



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Wilson-Raybould called it a referendum. Liberals saw it as civil war

Wilson-Raybould called it a referendum. Liberals saw it as civil war


In Jody Wilson-Raybould’s view, the question of her status within the Liberal caucus amounted to nothing less than a referendum on the soul of the Liberal Party itself.

“Ultimately, the choice that is before you is about what kind of party you want to be a part of, what values it will uphold, the vision that animates it, and indeed the type of people it will attract and make it up,” she told the Liberal parliamentary caucus in a letter Tuesday.

“If indeed our caucus is to be a microcosm of the country, it is about whether we are a caucus of inclusion or exclusion; of dialogue and searching for understanding or shutting out challenging views and perspectives; and ultimately of the old ways of doing business, or new ones that look to the future.”

Liberal MPs apparently weren’t convinced that her continued presence in caucus meant all that much. Hours later, confirming the expulsion of both Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opted for another choice of words.

“Civil wars within parties are incredibly damaging because they signal to Canadians that we care more about ourselves than we do about them,” Trudeau said Tuesday evening, casting back to the infighting that dominated earlier eras of the Liberal party.

As has been the case since the beginning of this saga, much depends on whether you accept Wilson-Raybould’s interpretation of events.

Trudeau, his government and the Liberal Party no doubt looked better to many Canadians because they had people like Wilson-Raybould and Philpott on board. Their presence in cabinet seemed to say that Trudeau would surround himself with accomplished and talented people, and that those people would be empowered to do things. They were prominent women in important positions, working for a feminist prime minister. And they were at the centre of an agenda for reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott they can no longer sit as Liberal MPs 0:33

But then, even people as accomplished and talented as Wilson-Raybould and Philpott might not have been elected in 2015 if they hadn’t run as Liberal candidates, or if the Liberal party hadn’t been led into that election by Trudeau.

That’s the party system of government for you — a system that still works, however obnoxiously partisans often behave.

No confidence

For all that Wilson-Raybould had to say in her two-page letter to caucus, it was perhaps most notable for what she didn’t say. At no point did she state that she has confidence in Justin Trudeau or that she supports him as the leader of the Liberal Party and prime minister of Canada.

It’s possible that she does … or did, at any rate. But she has conspicuously avoided saying so. A month ago, while testifying before the justice committee, Wilson-Raybould was asked the question quite directly. She replied that she did not think the question was “relevant.”

In fairness, maybe it wasn’t relevant. Maybe it shouldn’t be. But her reluctance to say publicly that the prime minister should continue to be the prime minister did make things awkward, and could’ve been particularly tricky on the doorsteps in Vancouver-Granville this fall.

“To have confidence in the government doesn’t mean you agree with everything that the government does or the prime minister does. I have disagreed,” Liberal MP Rob Oliphant said on Monday. “But I have confidence in him and I have confidence in the government to be making the right moves on moving Canada ahead.

“My hope is that caucus will meet quickly and that caucus will, I suspect, be of one mind that we don’t want people in the caucus who don’t have confidence in our government.”

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould leaves West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, April 2, 2019. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Mind you, Philpott did manage to tell a reporter on Tuesday that she still supported the prime minister. Apparently that wasn’t enough. Or maybe it was too late.

“I’m looking for a sign from that (Wilson-Raybould is) prepared to work with us to resolve these issues. I haven’t seen that sign yet. I’ll say very candidly, everything that she’s done so far seems to have been designed to cause damage,” Liberal MP Ken Hardie said on Tuesday afternoon.

“And that has not stood very well with her colleagues.”

Taking two out for the team

People will argue about who is most to blame for the harm done to the Liberal government over the last two months. But Liberals seem to believe Wilson-Raybould and Philpott didn’t do very much to limit the damage. And one can understand why the members of a team might not take kindly to a teammate they saw as unnecessarily hurting the team’s chances of victory.

To extend the sport analogy: no one player is ever supposed to be bigger than the team, except maybe the star. In the case of the red team, the star is still Trudeau, however much his stature has been diminished over the last two months.

On Tuesday evening, Trudeau showed a flash of something that hasn’t been on display in recent weeks: anger. Wilson-Raybould’s decision to record a phone call with Michael Wernick gave Trudeau that opportunity. For a politician to secretly record a conversation, Trudeau said, was “wrong.” For the attorney general of Canada to do so while speaking with the clerk of the Privy Council, he said, was “unconscionable.”

Others might find the content of the phone call to be more important than the fact it was recorded. But those who have decided that Trudeau was part of something unforgivable here probably weren’t going to be convinced by anything the prime minister had to say on Tuesday.

The move to expel Wilson-Raybould and Philpott seems to have been driven by the caucus, instead of a diktat from the leader. But Trudeau is the one who will wear it.

Nearly everything about Trudeau has been under attack over the last two months. And now Wilson-Raybould has framed her expulsion as confirmation of the worst things Trudeau’s detractors have alleged.

The civil war might be over (or pre-empted). But an election looms. Trudeau and the Liberals have six months to push past Jody Wilson-Raybould’s referendum and find a way to say more about themselves than Wilson-Raybould would have her expulsion say about them.

Tim Murphy, Janyce McGregor, Tim Powers and Francoise Boivin react to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement that he removed Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus. 8:13



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Atlantic Canada goes from stronghold to point of vulnerability for Liberals

Atlantic Canada goes from stronghold to point of vulnerability for Liberals


Atlantic Canada was where the first domino of the SNC-Lavalin affair toppled in public — when Nova Scotia cabinet minister Scott Brison decided to resign his post. It’s also where the Liberals have taken the biggest hit from the scandal’s fallout.

What was once the party’s most formidable electoral stronghold has now become one of its key regions of vulnerability.

According to the testimony of Gerald Butts, the prime minister’s former principal secretary, the plan to replace Brison as president of the Treasury Board was supposed to be simple and tidy. Jane Philpott would go from Indigenous Services to Treasury Board and Jody Wilson-Raybould would take Philpott’s place. David Lametti would be promoted into the justice portfolio vacated by Wilson-Raybould.

It didn’t quite work out as planned.

The CBC’s Canada Poll Tracker has recorded a six-point drop in Liberal support nationwide in the wake of the controversy surrounding Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet — but the party has fallen even further in Atlantic Canada.

The Poll Tracker estimates the Liberals are down to 37 per cent support in the region, just 2.5 points ahead of the Conservatives.

That’s a 12-point drop from where the party stood on Feb. 5 — a few days before the Globe and Mail, citing unnamed sources, first reported that Wilson-Raybould was pushed by senior people in the Trudeau government to allow the Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin to avoid criminal prosecution on fraud and bribery charges by meeting a number of conditions laid out in a remediation agreement.

That slide is twice as big as any drop the Liberals have suffered in other regions of the country and has been registered by every polling firm in the field over the last few weeks.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also has taken a bigger personal hit in Atlantic Canada than in the rest of the country. His approval rating in Atlantic Canada has averaged 32 per cent in three recent polls by three different polling firms. Those same three firms found Trudeau’s approval rating averaging 46 per cent in Atlantic Canada in November and December.

Trudeau and the Liberals certainly had more ground to give up in Atlantic Canada than they did elsewhere. The party swept all 32 of the region’s seats and beat the Conservatives by a margin of 40 points there in the 2015 federal election.

But the party has now gone from being 19 percentage points more popular in Atlantic Canada than in the country as a whole to just five points more popular there than nationwide. About one in four Atlantic Canadians who supported the Liberals at the beginning of February have since abandoned them. Nowhere else have the Liberals lost more than a fifth of their support.

It has a real impact on the Liberals’ chances of holding their seats in the region.

The Liberal sweep could be swept aside

When Butts testified at the justice committee last month, he talked about the electoral conundrum that Brison’s departure created for the Liberals.

“Not to give away a political strategy in this forum,” he said, “but my main political concern was our position in Nova Scotia.”

Butts was worried that with Brison gone — and with a few other Nova Scotia Liberals already at risk of not running for re-election in the fall, particularly if they weren’t given a promotion to replace Brison  — the party would be without incumbents in five of their 11 seats in the province, leaving those seats vulnerable.

The resignation of Scott Brison, standing here on the left during his farewell speech in the House of Commons in February, triggered the cabinet shuffle that ended up playing into the SNC-Lavalin affair. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Indeed, Brison’s departure has put those seats up for grabs — but not in the way Butts had expected.

The Poll Tracker estimates that, if an election were held today, the Liberals likely would hold on to between 13 and 22 of their 32 seats in Atlantic Canada. Lost to the Conservatives would be some seats in southern and central New Brunswick and some in rural parts of Nova Scotia. The New Democrats also would be in a better position to regain some of the seats they lost in 2015.

The list of nominally safe Liberal seats in the region is growing shorter, and includes a handful that will not have incumbents on the ballot — including Nova Scotia seats Sydney–Victoria, Cumberland–Colchester, West Nova and Brison’s own Kings–Hants.

The loss of an incumbent makes it harder for a party to retain a seat. In no place is that truer than in Atlantic Canada.

Provincial politics weighing the Liberals down?

While the Liberal slide coincides with the unfolding SNC-Lavalin affair, it’s possible that provincial politics is making the party more susceptible to losses.

Polls suggest fatigue with the provincial Liberal government in Nova Scotia, while the incumbent Liberals are trailing in the polls in P.E.I. ahead of the Apr. 23 election.

The P.E.I. Greens are leading there — a development which could complicate things further for the federal Liberals. A Green victory in P.E.I. could boost the fortunes of federal Greens across the region and put a few more seats into play, eating into the Liberals’ support among progressive Atlantic Canadians.

On the right, newly-installed Premier Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick is enjoying a bit of a honeymoon following September’s provincial election. The Progressive Conservative leader has gone hard against the federal Liberals on their implementation of the carbon tax in his province.

At the start of this federal election year, the Liberals were in a good position. Some of their support in Ontario and Western Canada had eroded, but Quebec and Atlantic Canada gave the party enough of a base to look for re-election in October.

The Liberals still lead in both Quebec and Atlantic Canada, but that lead has grown smaller. It’s almost entirely gone in Atlantic Canada. With it goes the seat cushion the Liberals were hoping for east of the Ottawa River.



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