The Irish Times view on Canada’s election: Trudeau’s aura has faded

Prime minister survives scandals but he could hardly have come closer to defeat

To listen to Justin Trudeau in the aftermath of Canada's federal election this week, you would think he had just won a landslide victory, his compatriots uniting around the flag of his progressive internationalism. "From coast to coast, tonight, Canadians rejected division and negativity," he declared. In fact, the sitting prime minister could hardly have come closer to defeat. His Liberal party lost the popular vote and its majority in parliament.

After four years in power, Trudeau’s aura has faded. His government’s purchase of an oil pipeline angered those who had applauded his carbon tax, and he struggled to shake off the whiff of scandal after the ethics watchdog ruled against him for pushing for judicial leniency for an influential engineering company in a conflict of interest case. During the campaign, Trudeau was forced to apologise when several images emerged of him in blackface. “Not as advertised” was the slogan of the opposition Conservatives, who hoped to capitalise on his tarnished reputation.

What saved Trudeau, however, was the Conservatives' failure to capitalise on disillusionment with his brand of performative politics. Opposition leader Andrew Scheer, a social conservative, seemed so uneasy discussing abortion and same-sex marriage that he struggled to articulate a position on either. Also working in Trudeau's favour was climate change. Scheer's plan to scrap the carbon tax was popular in Canada's oil-producing regions, but the measure is supported in heavily-populated Ontario, Quebec and in suburban constituencies across the country.

Trudeau's Liberals will most likely coalesce with the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). That's a good outcome. The NDP is progressive on economic policy and climate issues, and is opposed to further pipeline development. The second positive outcome was the performance of the far-right People's Party of Canada, a new outfit whose anti-immigration platform failed to win it a single seat in the House of Commons. Canada continues to resist the wave of reactionary populism infecting so many of the world's democracies.