PM’s Liberals and rival Conservatives are in a tight race as Canadians headed to the polls to elect next government.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party has won a minority government, the country’s public broadcaster projected, after a close election battle against the opposition Conservatives.
CBC News reported late on Monday that the Liberals would get the most seats in Canada’s 44th Parliament but would fall short of the 170-seat threshold needed for a majority.
Liberal candidates won or were leading in 157 electoral districts – known as ridings – at about 12.15am EST (04:15 GMT), CBC projections showed.
The final results were not released on Monday, as election officials will begin counting hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots on Tuesday morning.
“Millions of Canadians have chosen a progressive plan,” Trudeau said in his victory speech. “The moment we face demands real, important change and you have given this parliament and this government a clear direction.”
Trudeau said Canadians did not want to hear about elections any longer and that the results meant he has a “clear mandate” to get country through the pandemic.
In what experts said was a push for a majority, Trudeau triggered the snap election in mid-August, telling voters he wanted them to have a say over how the country finishes its fight against the coronavirus.
But he faced a tough challenge from the Conservatives, headed by Erin O’Toole, and experts said Trudeau, who has been prime minister since 2015, struggled to convince much of the electorate about why the election was necessary during the pandemic.
O’Toole took to the stage to concede defeat shortly before 12:30am (04:30 GMT) on Tuesday, saying that he had called Trudeau to congratulate him on his “hard won” campaign.
The Conservative leader had consistently condemned Trudeau for calling the election during a fourth wave of the pandemic, and heaped pressure on the Liberal leader throughout the campaign.
“Tonight Canadians did not give Mr Trudeau the majority mandate he wanted,” he said in his concession speech. “In fact, Canadians sent him back with another minority at the cost of six hundred million dollars and deeper divisions in our great country.”
The Liberals have been governing as a minority government propped up by opposition parties since they won 157 seats in the last federal election in 2019.
“So far the results look quite similar to what we saw back in October 2019,” Daniel Beland, a professor at McGill University and director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, told Al Jazeera in an email on Monday night.
“It seems the Liberals will remain in power with a minority government and parliament is likely to look strikingly similar to what it was at dissolution. Justin Trudeau lost his gamble to get a majority but, after a tough beginning of [the] campaign, was able to turn things around to remain in power.
“Most Canadians didn’t want these elections and now we face the realisation they didn’t change much.”
The election campaign was dominated by concerns over COVID-19 and mandatory vaccines, investments in health and child care, economic recovery plans and housing, among other issues.
Trudeau, who faced some angry protests on the campaign trail, said on the eve of Election Day that Canadians had a clear choice: “We now get to pick the right direction for our country, to keep moving forward – or to let Conservatives take us back.”
Both Trudeau and O’Toole were re-elected in their respective ridings, CBC projected.
The Liberals had been polling at 31.4 percent support on Sunday, according to CBC News’s poll tracker, which aggregates all public polling data, compared with 30.9 percent for the Conservatives and 20 percent for the left-leaning New Democratic Party in third place.
Several leading pollsters had predicted the Liberals would get the most seats in parliament, but said the party was not expected to get a majority.