The Liberal Party was poised Monday to return to power after a scrappy, tightly contested election that saw the once-bright shine on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dim markedly.
But it appeared the Liberals would form a minority government after four years with a sometimes tumultuous majority, raising the prospect of more jockeying among the parties in the days and months to come.
The results also set up a stark geographical divide, which saw almost all of the Liberal seats coming east of Saskatchewan, and the Conservatives dominating Alberta.
At 11 p.m, the Liberals were elected or leading in 156 seats, the Conservatives in 118, the Bloc Quebecois in 35, the NDP 23 and the Green Party three, with only a trio of the country’s 338 ridings still to report.
After a campaign that saw the Liberals and Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives deadlocked in opinion polls, the Liberals took losses but held their own in Atlantic Canada and the key battlegrounds of Ontario and Quebec.
How the Liberals will proceed now is sure to make for interesting times.
To govern in the House of Commons it needs 170 votes, which means it needs the help of at least one other party, most likely to be the NDP. Trudeau could try to govern on a vote-by-vote basis, or through a formal coalition with another party.
The Liberals slipped in the number of seats and overall support from four years ago, remaining in a statistical draw with the Conservatives in popular vote. But it was far from a massacre, its vote spread more evenly than the Tories’, enabling it to capture considerably more constituencies.
The party swept every seat in Atlantic Canada last election; this time it lost about half a dozen ridings there, with the Conservatives picking up most of those and the the NDP and Green Party one each.
The partisan balance in Quebec changed fairly dramatically, as the Bloc enjoyed a renaissance after two elections when it won too few seats even to obtain official-party status in the House of Commons.
The Bloc’s rise helped bring about a bad night for the New Democratic Party, which was losing big in Quebec and lagging well behind their 2015 national total of 44 seats.
In Ontario, the Liberals lost a few seats and the Conservatives gained some but Scheer did not score the pickups there he needed to stand a chance of reaching the prime minister’s office.
By late evening the Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Green leaders were all comfortably ahead or had won their own ridings, but Maxime Bernier had lost his Quebec seat of Beauce. The defeat put the future of his brand-new People’s Party of Canada in serious doubt.
Atlantic Canada gave the first signs of a Liberal Party that had lost support, but not enough to drive it from power.
Jack Harris, a longtime local NDP politician, took back the St. John’s East seat he lost in 2015, beating Liberal incumbent Nick Whalen.
But Liberal Jaime Battiste, who found himself in hot water over social-media posts that mocked indigenous women, managed to defeat Conservative Eddie Orrell in Nova Scotia’s Sydney-Victoria while Liberal MP Sean Fraser took down country music star George Canyon, who the Conservatives had parachuted into the riding of Central Nova.
All the cabinet ministers from the region were leading or elected in their respective ridings, including former broadcaster Seamus O’Regan.
“We started from a bad situation of having all the seats, so you can’t look perfect after that,” former interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said on CBC TV about the Eastern provinces. “On the whole we came out of Atlantic Canada better than might have been expected.”
Heading into election day, opinion polls had the Liberals and Conservatives effectively tied in the popular vote — just as they had been when the campaign began Sept. 11 — pointing to a likely minority government.
But what shape such a minority might take was less clear.
The blackface scandal that erupted early in the campaign and the lingering effects of the SNC-Lavalin affair weighed on Trudeau. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer grappled with milder controversies — the revelation he holds joint American citizenship, his questionable credentials as a insurance broker and past criticism of same-sex marriage.
The NDP and Bloc Québécois both surged in popularity as the campaign wore on, draining support from the top two parties — and suggesting one or the other could wield the balance of power in a hung parliament.
A strong showing by the Green Party raised the possibility that it would expand beyond the one seat held by leader Elizabeth May. If that happens, the Greens could conceivably play a kingmaker role themselves.
Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada — a north-of-the-border experiment in Trump-style populism — largely failed to take flight.
One thing seemed certain by the end of the five-week campaign: neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives had caught fire with the electorate, their poll numbers hardly budging, except to dip to about 31 per cent each. They seemed to fare slightly better on election day.
Trudeau swept to power in 2015, defeating Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper with promises of “sunny ways” — a kinder, gentler approach to politics that would emphasize gender equality, openness to immigration and reconciliation with indigenous Canadians.
The prime minister enjoyed an extended honeymoon, drawing an unusual amount of international attention as a sort of telegenic, liberal counterpoint to U.S. President Donald Trump. But then his government began hitting speed bumps.
Its broken pledge to bring in electoral reform, a botched state visit to India and a sense in Alberta that Trudeau had abandoned the oil industry as it was laid waste by falling prices combined with other missteps to tarnish the Liberal shine.
Then came the SNC-Lavalin scandal. It centred around attempts by the prime minister’s office to influence a decision by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on whether to press ahead with prosecution of the engineering firm on foreign corruption charges.
That controversy had begun to wane somewhat as the election campaign started, but within days another, more surprising affair hit the Liberals like a torpedo. Images surfaced of at least three occasions in Trudeau’s pre-politics past when he wore blackface, considered a deeply offensive practice. He apologized profusely, but for some Canadians the incidents called into question the sincerity of his pro-diversity mantra.
The controversy also proved to be an important moment for NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. As a Sikh who had often faced racism himself, his emotional response to the blackface photos resonated with many voters.
That was in some ways only the beginning of a campaign of character attacks, and personal controversies centred around the two main party leaders.