Opinion: Canada's government is on thin ice

John O'Neill
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau waves to the crowd as he takes the stage in Montreal, on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019.

In his victory speech on Monday night, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared that Canada had "rejected division" in the 2019 elections. Unfortunately, division now defines Canada. Trudeau's Liberal Party failed to win a majority of seats, taking only a plurality of 157 seats (out of 338) in Canada's House of Commons, leaving Trudeau with a minority government.

Indeed, the Liberals weren't even able to win the popular vote, taking only 33 percent compared to the 34 percent which went to the Conservatives led by Andrew Scheer.  Though some of the Canadian media reported that Trudeau had secured for himself another four years in power, minority governments in Canada usually don't last beyond two years. 

And given the acrimony between the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party, led by Jagmeet Singh and having taken 24 seats, Trudeau will find it hard to build bridges in Parliament.

On the other hand, it's notable that Trudeau can claim any kind of victory.  This has been a bad year for Trudeau (whose father was the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau). Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was serving as Attorney General in Canada, claimed that Trudeau had tried to pressure her to reduce a criminal penalty against Quebec based construction company SNC-Lavalin to a civil offense. Though Trudeau insisted there was no pressure, he did not look good after the inquiry and he looked even worse when he evicted Wilson-Raybould from the Liberal caucus.  (Wilson-Raybould was re-elected to her seat in Parliament by running as an independent.)

But Trudeau's misfortunes did not end there.  He was exposed in the weeks leading up to the elections for having appeared as a young man wearing black face and brown face get-ups, the latter of which occurred when he was 29 years old. The racially charged mischief took a clear political toll on Trudeau, who has prided himself on diversity and sensitivity to minority concerns (and was opened to charges of hypocrisy).

It's safe to say that in Justin Trudeau, the fruit didn't fall far from the tree. Pierre Trudeau left an impish legacy dating back to his college days during World War II (when he donned a German army helmet while riding a motor cycle). At the Liberal Party Convention in 1968, the elder Trudeau posed for a picture riding down the hand-rail on an escalator. And at a G7 summit in the 1970's, as prime minister, the elder Trudeau performed for the cameras by doing a pirouette behind Queen  Elizabeth II. 

Back to 2019, perhaps the most important result of the elections in Canada is the resurgence of the separatist Bloc Quebecois (led by Yves-Francois Blanchet). The Bloc took 32 seats (as compared to only 10 in 2015 and only 4 in 2011). Blanchet insists he has no visions of Quebec sovereignty in the near future. 

But Quebec sovereignty is a light sleeper and on the campaign trail, Conservative leader Scheer warned voters in Quebec to make no mistake about it: A vote for the Bloc Quebecois was a vote for another sovereignty referendum. Indeed, Blanchet himself was already stirring up nationalist fervor, pointing out that Quebec is not a signatory to the 1982 constitution, implying the document is null and void.

We in the United States tend to look upon Canada as a quiet neighbor. But Canada is a politically charged democracy. And if the 2019 elections are any guide, the political fireworks in Canada will remain active.

John O'Neill is an Allen Park freelance writer, with experience covering Canadian politics.