After falling short of his desired majority, where does Justin Trudeau go from here?

OTTAWA—As a new day dawned for a Liberal government returning to Parliament without its sought-after majority, what do Monday night’s election results mean for the party — and its leader — that made the political gamble in the first place?

It was a question the prime minister couldn’t answer himself on Tuesday; unlike other leaders, Justin Trudeau opted not to hold a news conference to field questions about his party’s showing, though he did find time to speak with U.S. President Joe Biden about his victory and the two countries’ shared priorities.

Inside the party, Liberal sources told the Star that the fact that Trudeau managed to pull off 158 seats, a greater minority than some thought might have been possible early in the campaign, may have staved off internal pressure that otherwise could have come on his leadership.

On Tuesday, a Liberal source said the prime minister can command the confidence of his caucus because he delivered a victory, albeit a minority.

Another said Trudeau still has the “fire in his belly” to do the job and is looking ahead to advancing his plan to aggressively tackle climate change.

Yet Liberal candidates have also told the Star throughout the campaign that they encountered what one described as a “visceral” impatience or anger with Trudeau at the door when candidates went searching for votes.

In Ottawa Centre, winning Liberal candidate Yasir Naqvi wasn’t one of those candidates who regularly encountered displeasure with Trudeau when knocking on doors.

On Tuesday, he told the Star that despite the party’s minority result, the prime minister had done a “phenomenal job” of leading the Liberals and the country.

“He has been steadfast and resolute in terms of fighting this pandemic,” Naqvi said. “I think that’s a big reason why we were elected and returned back as a government, because people feel confident in the response … taken by the prime minister, and they see that he is the best person to lead us out of this pandemic.”

The challenge now, Naqvi said, will be ushering in a new era of cross-party collaboration amid a pandemic, while working to deliver the ambitious platform on which the party ran.

“There’s always going to be some differences of opinion and there is going to be accountability, and that is an important role the opposition plays. But we also need to make sure that we are doing things that make Canadians, at the end of the day, the winner.”

As for Trudeau personally, what comes next may very well be about outlining his legacy, says Lori Turnbull, director of the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University.

“Even though he’s not showing any signs now with wanting to leave … what can he do in the next two or three years that would be a legacy for him, that would give stability to the minority Parliament and that would transition to the next leader as (smoothly) as possible?” Turnbull said.

Although Trudeau has said he is “not done fighting for Canadians,” if this government does turn out to be his last, his focus will need to be on the key priorities he wants to tackle during his final mandate, Turnbull added.

“The platform is huge … Are you able to drill down and say, ‘I want to prioritize these two or three things?’ ” Turnbull said. “If he can focus on that and build on that and deliver on that, that would be ideal.”

For the time being, some of the heat might be off Trudeau as all party leaders take stock of their wins and grapple with their losses on election night.

Despite the party’s minority showing, caucus should be happy with Trudeau’s performance, said Greg MacEachern, a former Liberal strategist and senior vice-president of Proof Strategies.

“You can rightly point to the fact that Justin Trudeau had a strong impact in terms of the fortunes of the election,” MacEachern said. “The question is around … the inability to come up with a response on the reason for an election — that is something that Liberals are having a lot of questions about.”

And where Trudeau’s new caucus is concerned, it might serve the prime minister well to face those questions.

“Justin Trudeau needs to demonstrate to his new Liberal caucus that he is a leader that listens and is prepared to retool his approach, his (Prime Minister’s Office), his admin, in a way that makes his caucus feel included and listened to,” the former strategist said.

“It has to be an approach that is going to get us past the end, hopefully the end, of the pandemic.”


Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

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