TORONTO: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won a second term in a stronger-than-expected showing in Canada’s national elections, claiming a “clear mandate” on Tuesday despite a Parliament and nation increasingly fractured along regional lines.

Trudeau’s Liberal Party took the most seats in Parliament but lost its majority in Monday’s balloting. That means it will have to rely on an opposition party to pass legislation.

The prime minister’s early morning address to supporters came as his Conservative rival, Andrew Scheer, had just begun speaking to his own backers, forcing TV networks to break away from Scheer. But the prime minister struck a conciliatory note: “To those who did not vote for us, know that we will work every single day for you, we will govern for everyone.”

With results still trickling in, the Liberals had 157 seats 13 short of the 170 needed for a majority in the 338-seat House of Commons while the Conservatives had 121.

While Trudeau claimed a mandate, his party won fewer raw votes nationally than the Conservatives did, and failed to win a single seat in the western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the Conservatives dominated.

There is a growing outrage in Alberta, home to the third-largest oil reserves in the world, over Trudeau’s inability to get a pipeline built to the Pacific Coast so that Alberta’s oil can command a higher price.

“To Canadians in Alberta and Saskatchewan,” he said after his victory, “know that you are an essential part of our great country. I have heard your frustration, and I want to be there to support you. Let us all work hard to bring our country together.”

At the same time, Trudeau said Canadians elected a progressive government that will fight climate change. That means he will keep a national carbon tax in place that has also angered western Canada.

In what was supposed to be a concession speech, Scheer said the results showed Trudeau was much weakened since his 2015 election, when pundits had predicted the beginning of another Trudeau dynasty. Trudeau’s father, Pierre, was prime minister from 1968 to 1984, apart from a brief interruption in 1979-80.

“Conservatives have put Justin Trudeau on notice,” Scheer said. “And Mr Trudeau, when your government falls, Conservatives will be ready, and we will win.”

“I’m surprised at how well Trudeau has done,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. “I don’t think anybody expected Trudeau to get a majority, but they [the Liberals] are not that far off.”

Trudeau’s Liberals are likely to rely on the New Democrats to form a new government and pass legislation. That will further alienate Western Canada because New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh is against the pipeline project.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2019