Following the federal election on October 21, Justin Trudeau returns to the House of Commons as Prime Minister while losing the popular vote. Canada’s first past the post electoral system got his party across the finish line with 157 seats, but it was the Conservatives, entering parliament with 121 seats, who actually won the popular vote.
The Conservative Party performed well in Western Canada, while the Liberals held on to all 21 seats in Toronto after their wins in Ontario – helping them win a minority government. The secessionist Bloc Quebecois saw a resurgence in Quebec, and British Columbia elected the three largest parties a stay in its province.
Riddled with controversies, Trudeau attempted to remain afloat as pictures of his multiple blackface incidences came to light – while the media fixated on Andrew Scheer’s American citizenship and Elizabeth May’s disposable cup. But behind this media spectacle, the election notably failed to address the real concerns facing voters.
As Trudeau maintains he will not form a coalition government, but instead collaborate on a per issue basis, none of the major parties are pushing comprehensive plans to decarbonize the economy.
Whilst the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois committed to expanding electric vehicles, and the banning of single-use plastics was backed by the Liberals and the NDP; these policies fell short of the comprehensive climate agenda, necessary to help workers transition to a green economy.
Even though the Conservatives performed well in the West, it is not necessarily indicative of where these voters stand on environment policies. Particularly in the prairies, where the oil and gas sector dominates the economy.
“There is a growing segment of folks in the West that do want to see positive changes for the environment but no one is being honest with them about what it means to fight climate change,” said Keith Brooks, the Programs Director at Environmental Defence Canada. “The government wants to have its cake and eat it too, but Canada ... [can no longer] reconcile its fight against climate crisis and invest in oil and tar sands at the same time.”
In the last federal election, Trudeau promised to phase out fossil fuel subsidies – which he subsequently failed to deliver on. In fact, a 2016 report revealed that Canada annually doled out $3.3 billion in fossil fuel subsidies.
Trudeau also committed $4.5 billion to the Trans Mountain pipeline despite opposition from environmental and indigenous groups.
If any party is serious about achieving a decisive majority, political leaders need to adopt a transformative vision on how Canada, which is warming at twice the global rate, can transition to a zero carbon economy while guaranteeing jobs for those currently working in the fossil fuel sector.
Housing affordability was another key issue for voters in the election, as Canada is experiencing a housing crisis caused by stagnant wages and soaring housing prices.
In 2017, almost 2 million Canadians between 25-64 years old lived with a parent. While young people are more educated than ever, they face a vulnerable job market and a high cost of living – forcing many to live at home for longer periods of time.
The main parties again failed on this front by introducing only supply-side solutions. The Liberal Party promised to build 100,000 affordable homes over the next decade; the NDP promised 500,000 over the same period; and the Tories promised to make a surplus of federal real estate available for development.
“Housing is as unsustainable as the climate right now,” says Paul Kershaw, Founder of Generation Squeeze. “There is momentum over housing affordability issues, and there is an appetite to solve the problem, but the way we are approaching it now through spending and increasingly supply alone doesn’t address the problem in the long run.”
To gain broad based popular support, our leaders need to systematically overhaul the rules of the housing game – guaranteeing housing as a right, “not merely as an opportunity to get rich,” according to Kershaw.
Overall, the Canadian election results indicated a similar disillusionment with establishment political parties and systems that we are witnessing all around the world.
Many saw the NDP as a party that could potentially galvanize the youth and gather the momentum needed to institute more radical change – yet the party’s disorganisation undermined its ability to leverage the momentum it had gained towards the end of the campaign. For example, by advanced polling week, it did not even have a candidate in Ontario’s Wellington-Halton Hills riding where the NDP generated some broad support. A minority government might give them a second chance to prove they can stand up to the establishment and advocate for the real issues plaguing voters.
Over the next couple of years, the minority government looks set to deliver piecemeal solutions to the urgent crises that require systemic changes: such as the climate and housing crisis. While Trudeau has been depicted as the liberal savior on the international stage, in reality, he has failed to deliver an agenda that vindicates his projection as an inclusive, feminist and progressive leader. And in failing to provide inspiring campaign messages, the other parties equally neglected the real concerns of their constituents.
Canada may seem more politically divided, but the issues facing most Canadians are actually non-partisan. The minority government must recognise this, and work to achieve long-term, sustainable solutions to the systemic crises.