Canadians have re-elected a Liberal minority government
Final seat tally may not look very different from composition of the House of Commons when it was dissolved
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has won enough seats in this 44th general election to form another minority government — with voters signalling Monday they trust the incumbent to lead Canada through the next phase of the pandemic fight by handing him a third mandate with a strong plurality.
After a 36-day campaign and a $600-million election, the final seat tally doesn't look very different from the composition of the House of Commons when it was dissolved in early August — prompting even more questions about why a vote was called during a fourth wave of the pandemic in the first place.
As of 4 p.m. ET, Liberal candidates were leading or elected in 158 ridings, a pick up of just one seat compared with the 2019 contest.
It's a reversal of fortunes for Trudeau. He launched this campaign with a sizeable lead in the polls — only to see his support crater days later as many voters expressed anger with his decision to call an election during this health crisis. Two middling debate performances by Trudeau and renewed questions about past scandals also put a Liberal victory in question.
But in the end, voters decided the Liberal team should continue to govern a country that, while battered and bruised by a health crisis, has also fared well on key pandemic metrics like death rates and vaccine coverage.
Trudeau called this election on Aug. 15, saying he wanted Canadians to weigh in on who should finish the fight against the pandemic and lead the country into a post-pandemic recovery. He promised a plan for child care, more aggressive climate action and a fix for Canada's housing shortage.
In his victory speech in Montreal in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Trudeau said the result suggests Canadians are "sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get Canada through this pandemic and to brighter days ahead.
"The moment we face demands real, important change, and you have given this Parliament and this government clear direction."
After a divisive campaign that saw a great deal of partisan sniping, Trudeau struck a more conciliatory tone on election night when he spoke directly to opposition leaders and those who didn't vote for a Liberal candidate.
"I hear you when you say you just want to get back to the things you love and not worry about this pandemic or about an election," he said. "Your members of Parliament of all stripes will have your back in this crisis and beyond. Canadians are able to get around any obstacle and that is exactly what we will continue to do."
O'Toole's moderate conservatism falls short at the polls
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has missed his chance to unseat a prime minister who has faced his fair share of challenges during six years in office. O'Toole ran on a plan to boost health care spending, shrink the deficit over 10 years and tighten ethics rules for politicians — a more moderate take on conservatism that ultimately fell short.
The Conservatives are on track to win in 119 ridings — two fewer seats than the party won under former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
Speaking to supporters in Oshawa, Ont., O'Toole said he had no plans to resign even though his party saw little if any growth in its vote share and seat count. He vowed to stay at the helm to take another swing at defeating Trudeau in the next election, which could come as soon as 2023.
"My family and I are resolute in continuing this journey for Canada," O'Toole said. "If Justin Trudeau thinks he can threaten Canadians with another election in 18 months, the Conservative Party will be ready. Whenever that day comes, I will be ready to lead Canada's Conservatives.
"We worked hard, we made progress, but the job is not done yet."
WATCH: O'Toole suggests Trudeau will call another election
O'Toole reaffirmed his commitment to take the party to the centre of the political spectrum even as it faces challenges on its right flank from the People's Party of Canada (PPC).
"We must continue this journey of welcoming more Canadians to take another look at this party," he said.
With Trudeau and the Liberals committed to progressive policies such as child care and new housing supports, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh ran even further to the left, promising a dramatic expansion of the federal government through $200 billion in new spending commitments for promises such as national pharmacare.
Singh vows to continue fight to make 'super wealthy' pay fair share
But Singh was criticized for putting out a platform with few details on how any of this transformative change would be implemented.
When all the ballots are counted, it could prove to be a disappointing night for Singh, with the NDP expected to pick up only one more seat than it won in 2019. Singh may have more clout in Parliament to look forward to, however — a minority Liberal government will have to depend on at least one opposition party to help it pass its legislation.
Like O'Toole, Singh signalled he has no intention of stepping down as leader despite an underwhelming performance.
WATCH: 'You can count on New Democrats to continue fighting for you,' says Singh
"Friends, I want you to know that our fight will continue. I also want you to know that we are going to keep on fighting to make sure that the super wealthy pay their fair share," Singh said in his concession speech, referring to his signature election promise to make the "ultra rich" pay much more in taxes to help cover the cost of new social programs.
"To all of your struggling, we see you, we hear you," Singh said.
Greens' Paul loses but May poised for re-election
The Green vote collapsed and the party's leader, Annamie Paul, finished a disappointing fourth in her Toronto Centre riding. For months, the party has been beset with internal squabbling and that hampered its electoral efforts.
But in the southwestern Ontario riding of Kitchener Centre, where the Liberal candidate dropped out amid allegations of harassment, Green candidate Mike Morrice was elected. The party's former leader, Elizabeth May, was also re-elected in her B.C. riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands.
Speaking to reporters in Toronto, Paul said she was disappointed to finish so poorly.
"It is hard to lose. No one likes to lose but I'm so proud of the effort," she said.
WATCH: 'No one likes to lose,' Green Party Leader Annamie Paul says
With nearly 16 million votes counted so far, the Conservatives have about 34 per cent of the ballots cast, the Liberals have 32 per cent and the NDP nearly 18 per cent. The Green Party captured 2.3 per cent of the ballots cast, while the PPC has more than five per cent — a much better result than the 1.6 per cent of the national vote it fetched in the 2019 election.
PPC Leader Maxime Bernier — a libertarian who has long railed against government overreach — became a champion of the "no more lockdowns" crowd during the pandemic, routinely appearing at well-attended protests against public health measures.
He is also vehemently opposed to vaccine passports — a position that appears to have given the PPC a boost among unvaccinated voters. But the improved showing failed to produce any seats in Canada's first-past-the-post electoral system. Bernier finished a distant second in his riding of Beauce, which was easily won by the Conservative incumbent, Richard Lehoux.
"This is not just a political party. This is a movement. It is an ideological revolution that we are starting now," Bernier told supporters in Saskatoon.
The Liberals owe their re-election to strong performances in the country's two most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec.
Toronto and its surrounding suburbs — colloquially known as "the 905" after its area code — proved to be a resilient Liberal fortress; the Conservatives failed to make any significant gains among GTA voters. Only one of the area's many seats, Thornhill, elected a Conservative MP. However, with votes still left to be counted, Liberal cabinet minister Deb Schulte is also in a tough fight in her riding of King-Vaughan.
Bloc looks to pick up two seats in Quebec
In Quebec, where the separatist Bloc Québécois is poised to pick up two more than the 32 seats it held in the last Parliament, the Liberal brand also performed well — although the Liberals were hoping for more gains there to vault it into majority government territory.
Trudeau cruised to victory in his own riding of Papineau. Other cabinet ministers, including François-Philippe Champagne in Quebec's Saint-Maurice-Champlain and Mona Fortier in Ontario's Ottawa-Vanier, also posted lopsided victories and were easily re-elected.
But at least one Liberal cabinet minister from Ontario, Maryam Monsef, went down to defeat. Monsef was easily bested by Conservative candidate Michelle Ferreri in the eastern Ontario riding of Peterborough-Kawartha — a seat that, until tonight, had a 40-year record as an election bellwether.
Liberal cabinet minister Bernadette Jordan loses her N.S. seat
While voters have returned a Liberal government to Ottawa, results from Atlantic Canada's 32 seats suggest O'Toole's more centrist brand of conservatism resonated in the region.
Newfoundland and Labrador and the Maritimes have been a Liberal stronghold for the last two election cycles — the party swept every seat there in 2015 and dropped only five in 2019.
O'Toole, who has appointed a number of Maritimers to senior roles in the party, performed better than his recent predecessors in this region.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper was shut out of Atlantic Canada in 2015 while Scheer picked up only four seats in the 2019 contest.
Conservative candidates have been declared elected in seven of the region's ridings. Conservative Rick Perkins has unseated Liberal incumbent Bernadette Jordan in the Nova Scotia riding of South Shore-St Margarets. Jordan served as fisheries minister in Trudeau's cabinet.
The Conservative candidate in Cumberland-Colchester, Stephen Ellis, easily picked off Liberal incumbent Lenore Zann.
As Alberta grapples with another public health emergency under the leadership of Premier Jason Kenney, the Conservative brand took a hit in that province. Liberal candidate George Chahal beat the Conservative incumbent in Calgary Skyview and Edmonton Centre was also on track to go red, but the margin is so thin that the race is still too close to call.
PHOTOS | Voters queue to cast their vote: