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Justin Trudeau Narrowly Survived Canada's Election To Win A Second Term As Prime Minister

The 2019 election campaign was one of the most divisive and negative in Canadian history.

Last updated on October 22, 2019, at 8:15 a.m. ET

Posted on October 21, 2019, at 10:57 p.m. ET

Ryan Remiorz / AP

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party will hold on to power, winning the most seats in a national election Monday but losing a parliamentary majority after a divisive campaign plagued by scandal. It's a result that will force the leader to work with at least one opposition party to govern.

As of 1:30 a.m. ET Tuesday, Trudeau’s Liberal Party had won 157 of 338 seats, according to preliminary results from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, ensuring that Trudeau will remain the prime minister of Canada. The Conservative Party, led by Andrew Scheer, won 121 seats. The New Democratic Party, led by Jagmeet Singh, the first Sikh leader of a major party in Canada, won 24 seats. The far-right People’s Party of Canada, which campaigned heavily against mass immigration, did not pick up any seats.

"Tonight, we chose to move Canada forward," Trudeau told supporters early Tuesday at a victory party.

Scheer congratulated Trudeau for winning the most seats, but told supporters, "Tonight, Conservatives have put Justin Trudeau on notice and, Mr. Trudeau, when your government falls Conservatives will be ready and we will win."

President Donald Trump also congratulated the prime minister on his modest victory.

Congratulations to @JustinTrudeau on a wonderful and hard fought victory. Canada is well served. I look forward to working with you toward the betterment of both of our countries!

When Trudeau was first elected as prime minister in 2015, he was seen as a young progressive leader for a modern Canada. Part of a political dynasty, Trudeau was born when his father, Pierre Trudeau, was still in office as prime minister.

Openly calling himself a feminist, the younger Trudeau insisted on gender equality for his cabinet, naming women for half of the ministerial roles for the first time in Canadian history. His good looks (see: "Literally Just 27 Really Hot Photos Of Justin Trudeau") and willingness to openly — albeit diplomatically — challenge Trump only endeared him further to liberals looking for comfort after the global turbulence of 2016.

In June 2016, his approval rating hit 65%, the second highest in Canadian history. But by this week, one poll found only 46% of Canadians approved of him as leader.

Trudeau’s mandate was weakened by a scandal involving Canadian company SNC-Lavalin, which tarnished his image as a self-described feminist. When then–attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould had pursued corruption charges against the company, she came under pressure from Trudeau to drop them; he had argued behind the scenes that too many jobs would be lost if the company were to be convicted. A federal ethics commissioner later ruled that Trudeau’s pressuring of Wilson-Raybould broke conflict of interest laws.

After Wilson-Raybould’s decision, the prime minister removed the country’s first Indigenous justice minister from her post and replaced her with a white man. Another woman minister resigned in solidarity.

Other long-standing tensions exist between Trudeau and Indigenous communities, who feel that the prime minister has failed to uphold his progressive ideals when it comes to addressing historic and ongoing issues.

Don Mackinnon / Getty Images

The 2019 Canadian election campaign has been one of the most divisive and negative in the country’s history. Partisan media overtook Facebook, with conservative publications dominating, although the Liberal Party outspent the Conservative Party 3 to 1 on Facebook and Instagram.

The election race was jolted in September when Trudeau had to address multiple old photos of him appearing in blackface and brownface, dressed up in costumes for various parties and events. In the first photo made public, Trudeau was a 29-year-old teacher who had donned brownface and a turban for an “Arabian Nights” event at the school.

"I regret it deeply and I'm deeply sorry that I did that," said Trudeau, 47, at a press conference, acknowledging he’d engaged in the offensive practice repeatedly. "It was something I didn't think was racist at the time, and now I know it was racist."

It wasn’t the first time the Liberal leader had been questioned on his inappropriate cultural appropriation. During a trip as leader to India in 2018, he and his family faced criticism — and mockery — after they repeatedly wore traditional Indian outfits.

Climate change proved to be one of the biggest issues of the election, with the Conservative Party promising to abandon carbon pricing if elected. In contrast, the other major parties doubled down on promising climate change mitigation.

Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg marched with thousands of Canadians in Alberta just three days before the election, demanding action on climate change. But Trudeau’s own climate change history is complicated: his administration purchased a pipeline connecting Alberta’s oil fields shortly after his election for $4.5 billion CAD, and has promised to expand it if elected again. The Trans Mountain Pipeline has divided the parties, with the Liberal and Conservative parties promising to go ahead with pipeline expansion project and the NDP and Greens saying they’d scrap it.

But Trudeau had insisted his party would continue to implement climate change mitigation policies. “Our important choice right now is to step up, again, in the fight against climate change and do even more,” he said on Sunday, the day before the election.

Former US president Barack Obama had endorsed Trudeau, one of the last liberal world leaders from Obama’s era still in power, for reelection, noting that “the world needs his progressive leadership now.”

“He's a hard-working, effective leader who takes on big issues like climate change,” wrote Obama on Twitter. “I hope our neighbors to the north support him for another term.”


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