The 2021 Canadian federal election is over, and it produced one of the most status quo results in Canadian history. While not all ridings have been called, the end result is determined. No party will gain or lose more than a few seats, there was little popular vote shift among the larger parties, and the result is another healthy Trudeau Liberal minority where neither the NDP nor the Bloc Québécois hold the balance of power on their own. In many ways, every single party—along with the Canadian electorate—lost this disappointing election.
Justin Trudeau can be said to have ‘won’ the most seats, but he made no substantive gains despite clearly calling this election to seize majority power. Not only did he fail to preserve the massive lead he held upon the dropping of the writ, he was once again elected with historically low levels of support—in fact, no prime minister has held a lower vote share than Trudeau in the past two elections. Likewise, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole may have been happy with the result relative to polling earlier in the summer (predicting certain Liberal victory), but for a moment his party saw a polling spike and it appeared a win was possible. But he was unable to consolidate that support and lost ground overall. His job is now likely in danger.
The Green Party avoided total catastrophe because while likely dropping two of their three seats, they picked one up on the back of a Liberal scandal in Kitchener. Nonetheless, they are down in seats and saw a precipitous decline in their vote share, while leader Annamie Paul finished a distant fourth in the riding of Toronto Centre. This, when combined with the fact that the Greens failed to contest nearly 100 ridings, is a sign of a party facing terminal decline and a fractious fight over its leadership. The Bloc may be said to have had a decent night, but they failed to meet initial goals. Real questions remain about their path forward, and if they can continue to persist going forward.
While the People’s Party was the only one which substantively increased their vote share, they failed to effectively seize upon the COVID crisis to generate a parliamentary presence. While it’s too early to write off the long-term viability of the PPC, the fact is that the pandemic was tailormade for them—where there was broad opposition to masks, lockdowns, and vaccines—and where no other party took the hardline anti-lockdown position. They not only failed to win a seat, but failed to come close to victory in any riding. Even leader Maxime Bernier got crushed again in Beauce, the riding he held before leaving the Conservatives.
This brings us to Jagmeet Singh and the NDP. In many ways, the result was a disappointing one. While Singh has increased the party’s vote share to nearly 18 percent, he won’t gain more than two or three seats (but likely only one). This is despite the fact that projections prior to the vote placed the NDP winning above 30 seats, and closer to 20 percent of the vote. Clearly there was a failure to connect Singh’s personal likeability into hard results. And while there were inspiring gains in Edmonton and other places, there are likely losses in Hamilton and Atlantic Canada.
Singh’s platform was bolder than most recent NDP offerings, but it was still marred by a cautious triangulation that detracted from the impact of some positions. For example, it was announced before the election that the NDP would cancel student loan debt if elected. This generated a lot of excitement, which was instantly dashed when the caveats rolled in. The plan was partial, delayed, means tested, and far too complicated. As a result, we heard almost nothing about this policy during an election where it was clear Singh was directly targeting the votes of younger Canadians saddled with debt. If the party offered a clear amount to be immediately and universally cancelled, it would have rallied young voters effectively.
More than 40% of people eligible to vote in Canada did not cast a ballot. This passive boycott of the electoral circus thus has greater support than any of the political parties, including the victorious Liberals who got 5 million votes in a country of some 28 million voters.— Tyler Shipley (@le_shipster) September 21, 2021
Certainly, Singh was punished by first-past-the-post strategic voting, but it’s also the case that he did not solidify the support he earned mid-campaign. None of this is to say Singh needs to go—my view is that he deserves another kick at the can—but that there needs to be a real shakeup for 2023 in how the campaign is run. This current minority parliament should provide Singh opportunities to wield influence, but one should not expect any more progressive policies from Trudeau than we did in the previous one given the similar composition.
But the biggest losers of all were the Canadian voters. Due in part to our broken electoral system but also monumental failures by Elections Canada and the Liberal snap election call, this election failed to represent the will of the people. Sadly, the 2021 election will either be the worst or second worse election ever in terms of turnout, and many groups had active roadblocks placed in the way of their participation. While Elections Canada was supposedly ready for this election despite concerns they raised, they cancelled the student vote program which aimed to increase turnout among young voters. They also closed many polling stations—with some Toronto ridings losing as many as 80 percent—making voting less accessible and lines much longer.
Worst of all was that some Indigenous communities in places like northern Ontario literally had no polling stations on election day. Supposedly they were offered advance polls, but in lieu of E-Day polls. Settler Canadians did not have to make such an either-or choice. Regardless of partisan leaning, serious questions must be raised about the administration of this election, to ensure all Canadians can vote easily next time. Snap elections should also never be called when it jeopardizes the integrity of the election itself.
All in all, this $600 million Trudeau vanity project offered little in the way of change for any party, and Canadians will have to continue waiting for a government that offers the social, economic, and environmental justice they need.
Christo Aivalis is political writer and commentator with a PhD in History. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and Passage. He can be found daily on YouTube and at his new podcast Left Turn, Canada.