A Liberal Sweep in Canada’s Elections

Justin Trudeau, Canada's new Prime Minister

Image courtesy of Meet Justin Trudeau

A Liberal Sweep in Canada’s Elections

| published October 21, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff


While Americans consider candidates in a Presidential election still more than a year away, voters in Canada sent a former high school teacher into power as 11 weeks of campaigning came to a close this week.

The winner of that election re-establishes Canada’s once strong identity with liberal and progressive politics, and signals a national rejection of a decade of conservative leadership. Voters in Canada chose Justin Trudeau—the 43-year-old son of Pierre Trudeau, one of the country’s most charismatic prime ministers and one who held office in Ottawa for the better part of 15 years (from 1968 to 1984, save for a brief interlude between late 1979 and early 1980).

This week, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party soundly defeated the Conservative Party Stephen Harper, which had held the reins of power for more than a decade. Trudeau’s Liberal Party has gone into the election cycle in third place, but gained the upper hand after a campaign which touted change.

Trudeau, and his Liberal Party, won the support of nearly 40% of voters in Canada, a big turnaround for the same party which won only 34 seats four years earlier, falling in third place even behind the New Democrat Party. The Conservatives received about 32% percent of the vote, with the New Democrats in third place with about 19.5%. Liberals captured 184 seats out of the total 338 seats.

Justin Trudeau is the second youngest prime minister in Canadian history, and is widely—and optimistically to liberals—considered as dynamic a thinker and progressive a legislator as his famous father. Conservatives secured 99 seats; New Democrats won 44 seats; Bloc Quebecois won 10; and the Green Party captured 1 seat.

Trudeau’s victory secured the Liberal Party 14 seats more than what is needed for a majority, meaning that Trudeau can govern without forging an alliance with other parties, and Trudeau can engage in liberal legislation without the need for compromise with Conservatives. Harper will step down as leader of the Conservatives, while the party’s members and leaders sort out the damage and consider a new strategy for future elections.

Most significant is this week’s shift to the left in Canada, a country which had embraced conservatism for more than a decade. Trudeau’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, and his Conservative Party, had enjoyed widespread support for many years, a period in which Harper ushered-in lower taxes on both business and individuals, a military and foreign policy alignment which closely resembled that of the U.S., an emphasis on business growth and expansion, and enthusiastic support of oil and energy exploration—most notably support for the construction of the Keystone Pipeline.

Trudeau and his Liberal Party can be expected to begin the process of pushing back against many of Harper’s pro-business and conservative initiatives. The Liberal Party had established several key platform planks, including raising taxes on high-earners and the wealthy, cutting some taxes on middle class workers, allowing for deficits for a three-year period to cover the immense cost of infrastructure repair and replacement, and ease out of military alliances with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS. Trudeau also vowed to create a more flexible template for the arrival of Syrian refugees.

The Liberals also promised to begin to give closer scrutiny to environmental issues related to the Keystone Pipeline—a cornerstone of Harper’s pro-growth pro-business agenda. And though it may still require a national vote, Trudeau’s Liberals want to legalize marijuana.

Ultimately, many opinion polls showed that the decision, however, came down to the economy for most voters. Harper had campaigned as a champion of balanced budgets and tax cuts; Trudeau had said that the economy was still weak and sluggish after nearly a decade of conservative governance. Trudeau’s call for higher taxes on the wealthy created controversy; the Liberals are proposing a tax rate of more than 50% for the rich in Canada.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Cameron's Conservative Party Sweeps U.K. Elections; Thursday Review; May 8, 2015.