Just as Albertans voted for change in the May provincial election, Canadians emphatically demonstrated their desire for a change in government at the federal level Monday.
But instead of choosing NDP orange as the Alberta electorate did, Canadian voters opted to redo the House of Commons in Liberal red.
In a stunning election result that few would have predicted, the Liberals stormed to a majority government, rising from the ashes of their equally stunning fall in the 2011 election. As a result, thanks to the second generation of Trudeaumania, Justin Trudeau becomes Canada’s second-youngest prime minister in history at age 43 (Joe Clark was just shy of his 40th birthday when he led the Conservatives to victory in 1979).
It marks a return to 24 Sussex Drive for Trudeau, who spent his early years in the Ottawa residence when his dad, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was prime minister. They’re the country’s first father-son duo to serve in that capacity, and it fulfills a “prediction” former U.S. president Richard Nixon made at a state dinner in 1972. Justin was just a few months old then when Nixon reportedly joked that the youngster would follow in his dad’s footsteps and become prime minister someday.
This year’s election was unusually long at 78 days, and the youthful Trudeau seemed to get stronger as the marathon campaign went on, pulling away from his chief rivals, Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair, down the stretch. Had it been a sprint, Mulcair might have fared better in the final outcome, since opinion polls had him in the early lead.
Tory advertising during the campaign targeted Trudeau’s youth and inexperience, seeking to convince voters “he’s just not ready.” But on election night, enough voters decided that, yes, he was ready, to entrust him with a majority government. The final tally of 184 Liberal seats, comfortably above the 170 needed for a majority, put Trudeau’s party 85 seats ahead of the runner-up Conservatives, who find themselves back in the official opposition seats they held before winning the 2006 election.
That Harper failed in his bid to become the first prime minister since Wilfred Laurier in 1908 to win four consecutive mandates was, in the words of one Tory source quoted by The Canadian Press, the result of “a bad campaign and Harper fatigue.”
The lengthy campaign seemed to work against Harper. While Trudeau began the campaign in third place in the polls, he picked up momentum as the campaign wore on and voters got to know him better. If the campaign came down to a preference for party leaders as much as the parties themselves, Trudeau was clearly preferred over either Harper or Mulcair.
Certainly the younger Trudeau shares his father’s famous charismatic personality, but he also shows the softer, warmer side of his mother Margaret. The combination gave Liberals the dynamic leader they needed to bounce back in a big way from the paltry 34 seats they earned in the 2011 election.
The fall of the NDP was another surprise. After claiming official opposition status with 103 seats in 2011 (with the late Jack Layton at the helm), the NDP dropped back to a more traditional placing with 44 seats on Monday. Whether it was the result of strategic voting by the electorate, the left-of-centre vote swung strongly toward the Liberals and away from the NDP in this election.
Not surprisingly, voter turnout climbed for this election, with more than 68 per cent of eligible voters casting ballots, a notable rise from the 61 per cent who voted in 2011.
Analysts suggested that benefited the Liberals, with many of the additional voters coming from the younger age bracket. The higher turnout is a positive as it showed voters were more engaged in the democratic process this time around.
As Harper said in his concession speech Monday night, “the voters are never wrong.” They clearly wanted change and they opted for Justin Trudeau and the Liberals to bring that about.
Now we’ll see what the younger Trudeau and his team can do over the next four years.