Montreal Gazette



OSHAWA, ONT. • Erin O'toole's energy never flagged in the final days of the 2021 election campaign, which finished up at an enthusiast­ic Sunday night in the Toronto riding of Don Valley West. But the campaign around him sure seemed to be losing steam. And on Monday afternoon, as reporters filed into Tribute Communitie­s Centre — home of the OHL'S Oshawa Generals — campaign officials had already started managing expectatio­ns.

Just holding Justin Trudeau to a minority would count as a win, campaign chair Walied Soliman told the Toronto Star. “The victory comes in advancing the dialogue with Canadians,” Soliman suggested.

Later, Conservati­ve strategist Jason Lietaer put a forward-looking spin on things. “We can't be OK with 33, 34, 35 per cent (of Canadians) considerin­g (voting Conservati­ve),” he said. “We had to move to 40 or 50 per cent. I think Mr. O'toole ... got a lot of Canadians to take a second look in that campaign, and that's a massive step forward.”

Lietaer argued O'toole would wind up well positioned to hold onto his leadership and contest the next election — and maybe with a third look, the post-stephen Harper Conservati­ves could finally close the deal. “(O'toole has) gone from unknown to contender in just a few weeks,” Lietaer enthused.

No one is conceding defeat at deadline, certainly.

Early returns from tight ridings in Atlantic Canada looked positive for O'toole, but not particular­ly surprising. According to The Canadian Press election desk, the Tories have stolen Cumberland—colchester, in Nova Scotia, and Coast of Bays—central—notre Dame, in Newfoundla­nd, from the Liberals. The latter went 75 per cent Red Team just six years ago! CP also has the Conservati­ves hanging on in West Nova, another very tight riding.

Then the Quebec and Ontario results came in, however, and just before 10:30 p.m., CBC, CTV and The Canadian Press made the call: Another Liberal government, details to be determined.

Even if O'toole only holds Trudeau where he was, it's not the acme of foolishnes­s to suggest he did well. As Brian Mulroney reminded a Conservati­ve audience in Orford, Que., last week, Canadians are generally not fond of change for change's sake — and few Canadians wanted this election in the first place. Four Canadian provinces have seen pandemic elections thus far: British Columbia, Saskatchew­an, Nova Scotia and Newfoundla­nd and Labrador. Only Nova Scotians sent the incumbent government packing, and that was considered a major upset. The others were returned with majorities.

It's not clear what O'toole could have done better without completely alienating the party base. It remains something of a mystery what happened to the early-days Tory lead that pollsters found. Softening the platform's position on “assault rifles” — O'toole promised mid-campaign to keep all currently banned weapons banned — might have raised some questions about trustworth­iness, especially in Quebec. But O'toole couldn't have done more to woo nationalis­t Quebec voters without tattooing the Fleurdelis­é on his face and singing Gens du Pays at every campaign event. If it was the blowup during the debate over Quebec's restrictio­ns on minority linguistic and religious rights that caused the Bloc Québécois to surge, and nixed a potential Blue Wave in that province, there was nothing O'toole could reasonably have been expected to do about it.

There was much to criticize the Liberals about when it came to pandemic management, not least their performanc­e at the border. But Trudeau and his ministers never faced the sort of harsh questionin­g on those failings that the premiers faced for their own.

Had Canada's early-days vaccine-procuremen­t woes continued, this election almost certainly never would have happened.

But vaccine-procuremen­t turned into a remarkable success story very quickly for the Liberals, even relative to some vaccine-producing countries. Perhaps a Conservati­ve government wouldn't have had those early problems. Few would likely argue with the Conservati­ve platform's vows to ramp up domestic vaccine production and self-sufficienc­y in personal protective equipment.

Then again, time travel is science-fiction. No one even wants to think about needing yet another emergency vaccine to stave off yet another crippling pandemic within our lifetimes.

Unless the polls and seat projection­s were considerab­ly more off-base than in recent elections, Monday will still go down as a defeat for Trudeau: He barely even pretended the ballot question was anything other than “May I have a majority?” If the answer is still no, and if he survives Monday night and intends to contest the next election, he will be attempting something remarkable:

The last prime minister to win four elections in a row was Wilfrid Laurier, and Justin Trudeau is no Wilfrid Laurier. Many in the party will want to move on, and with good reason.

For many Conservati­ves, that would be a very shiny silver lining indeed. In the final week of his campaign, O'toole's message to voters was relentless: “Don't reward Justin Trudeau for his unnecessar­y $600-million election.”

It seems, at least, that the prime minister has not been so rewarded. But schadenfre­ude is an awfully long way from power.

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 ?? REUTERS/BLAIR GABLE ?? Conservati­ve party leader Erin O'toole watches the early election results in Oshawa, Ont., Monday night.
REUTERS/BLAIR GABLE Conservati­ve party leader Erin O'toole watches the early election results in Oshawa, Ont., Monday night.

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