Trudeau Wins, but Is Diminished by a Futile Election

OTTAWA — One day after an election Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a “pivotal moment” in his country’s history, Canada seems to have pivoted right back where it started.

Mr. Trudeau eked out a slim victory on Monday after voters turned out in record-low numbers, but his Liberal Party’s share of power in Parliament remains virtually the same as it was during the last session of Parliament. So does every other party’s.

That helps explain why some Canadians are calling it the election to nowhere.

And the winner may turn out to be the loser. Critics say the vote may have undermined Mr. Trudeau’s credibility and reinforced the notion among many Canadians that he is a political opportunist.

“His job is secure, but I still think he comes out diminished in the end from this,” said Andrew McDougall, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

When Mr. Trudeau called the 36-day campaign — the shortest allowed by law — in August, he said he needed a strong mandate to bring the pandemic to heel and lead the country to economic recovery.

Mr. Trudeau never explicitly acknowledged that he hoped to ride his popularity from the government’s handling of the pandemic to a majority in Parliament. But he also never denied it.

Still, some questioned both the timing of the election, and the need.

Prominent Liberals, among them his friend and former top political adviser Gerald Butts, argued that Mr. Trudeau never offered a compelling case that a minority Parliament had stopped him from accomplishing his legislative goals, especially its large pandemic-related spending programs. While the opposition delayed some of Mr. Trudeau’s measures, the only legislation he presented that did not pass were the bills still outstanding when Parliament was dissolved at Mr. Trudeau’s request for the vote.

Anger over the prime minister’s decision to call an election followed him throughout the campaign. So did apathy.

Several polls found that few voters were paying much attention, particularly before Labor Day, when it seems much of the nation’s attention was turned toward beaches, boats and barbecues.

Although the election was the most costly in Canada’s history — it cost $600 million in Canadian dollars — voter turnout, which is likely to remain unchanged when final results are released, was 58.44 percent, the lowest ever.

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