In 1993, Bill Murray starred in the film Groundhog Day, about a man who wakes up every morning to find that he is back at the start of the previous day, doomed to repeat the same events over and over. Groundhog Day cost $19 million to make 25 years ago, or $36 million in today’s dollars: a bargain, when you consider the price of the 2021 version, aka Canada’s 44th federal election, expected to cost more than $600 million. The movie was also a lot funnier, featured less hostility, and had a happier ending.
Let’s start with Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. While he clung to power, he barely budged the needle: as of midday Tuesday, the Liberals were leading or elected in 158 seats, one more than at the dissolution of the last Parliament. It could have been worse: had they won fewer, the Liberal party would have likely engaged in a spirited game of knife-the-leader. At 32 per cent of the popular vote, 900,000 fewer than the party got in 2019, the results are a clear indictment of Trudeau’s decision to call an election. However, as Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells put it, a win’s a win, and it’s probably a safe bet that Trudeau will not only lead the next government, but lead the party in the next election, whenever that will be.
For Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, it’s a different story. Even before all ballots were cast Monday his advisers were spinning the line that keeping Trudeau from a majority would count as a Conservative “victory,” a defeatist message if there ever was one. With 800,000 fewer votes than 2019, the Tories didn’t lose as much support as the Liberals did. And they again won the popular vote, with 34 per cent. But their seat count of 119 also didn’t improve (they won 121 in 2019). The question for the party is: was it the message or the messenger? O’Toole tried to shift Conservatives to the centre, chasing Liberal voters, but he did so after winning the party leadership by campaigning to the right of his Tory rivals. Alienated right-wingers had other options, such as Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, which combined anti-vaccine and anti-government sentiment to scoop up enough voters to spoil Tory hopes in up to 25 ridings across the country.