Canada’s Conservatives Win Shock Election Victory in Grim Omen for Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaks to the media while meeting with Speaker of
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Canadian Conservative candidate Don Stewart won a close election on Monday in Toronto-St.Paul’s, taking a seat that has been held by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party for the past 30 years.

“Before Monday’s vote, a Conservative candidate hadn’t been competitive in Toronto–St. Paul’s since the 1980s. The party hadn’t won a seat in urban Toronto since the 2011 federal election,” CBC News marveled.

CBC called the race a “nail-biter to the very end,” with Stewart’s Liberal opponent Leslie Church in the lead for about six out of seven hours of vote-counting. Stewart only took the lead when the final batch of votes was counted, vaulting to 42.1 percent over Church’s 40.5 percent. Stewart won the race by 590 votes. Liberals won the previous nine elections in the district by over 20 points each time.

“The Liberals’ poor showing in a stronghold like this could prompt some soul-searching for Trudeau, who has seen his popularity plummet as inflation, the cost of living crisis, high home prices and surging immigration levels drive voter discontent,” CBC suggested.

The Canadian Press compared Church’s glum evening to Canada losing the Stanley Cup on Monday night. The election upset was already so painful for Liberals that the Canadian Press could not bring itself to pour lemon juice on their paper cuts by mentioning who took the Stanley Cup from Canada.

The only consolation for Liberals was that independent candidates might have siphoned off enough votes to make first-time candidate Stewart’s shock victory possible. Amrit Parhar of the New Democratic Party (NDP) finished with 10.9 percent, while Christian Cullis of the Green Party took 2.9 percent.

“The race was considered a must-win for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the loss is a massive blow that could trigger calls for him to step down after 11 years as Liberal leader,” the Canadian Press warned. 

Stewart himself said the election was a “chance to send Justin Trudeau a message.”

The contest on Monday was a “by-election” or special election, prompted when Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett resigned in December. 

Bennett, a 73-year-old former doctor who first entered the House of Commons in 1997, decided it was time to end her time in Parliament – but she did not stay out of government for very long, as Trudeau named her ambassador to Denmark in January. She chose to resign her parliamentary seat immediately instead of waiting for the next regular election in 2025.

Bennett, who won almost all of her parliamentary races with over half the vote, was the major reason Toronto-St.Paul’s was considered an invulnerable “safe seat” for Liberals. The party quickly chose Church, a veteran staffer whose last post was chief of staff to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, as Bennett’s successor.

The Conservatives went with Stewart, an eight-year resident of the St. Paul’s district who served as director of market surveillance at the Canadian Investment Regulatory Organization. Stewart is also a military reservist and treasurer of a non-profit organization devoted to veterans. He has long been involved in Conservative politics, but never ran for office before.

CTV News reported Conservative leaders were almost as surprised by Stewart’s shock win as Liberals. Both sides agreed the outcome was a devastating blow to Trudeau and a tremendous boost to Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre.

Most political analysts went into the race assuming Church would win, but they warned that if she won by five points or less, it would still be a sign that Poilievre might crush Trudeau in the next general election.

David Colletto, CEO of analytics firm Abacus Data, said before the election that Trudeau should think about throwing in the towel if Church won by less than ten points. Conservative analysts spoke of internal polls that showed Stewart losing by five points, and said that would be close enough to send Trudeau an unmistakable message. Virtually no one in the media or political sphere expected Stewart to actually win.

CTV spoke to Liberals who grumbled that the deeply unpopular Trudeau was an anchor around Church’s neck. For that matter, CTV’s own commentators blasted Trudeau for dragging Church down.

“I feel sick for Leslie. She poured everything into this, uprooting her life and campaigning endlessly. This isn’t really her loss. But it will still hurt,” sighed CTV analyst Scott Reid.

The Liberal Party pulled out all the stops to save Church, sending in just about every party heavyweight except Trudeau, including Church’s old boss Freeland. 

Liberal sources mostly said they were not ready to call on Trudeau to step aside just yet, but their position might change if Conservatives do well in the next few by-elections. 

Poilievre’s deputy Melissa Lantsman certainly seemed to think the future looked bright for her party on Monday:

The National Post suggested that in addition to public discontent with Trudeau, another factor in Toronto-St. Paul’s could be Jewish voters, who make up about ten percent of the district.

Canada’s Liberals – like left-wing parties in the United States and across Europe – maintained an awkward silence during vicious pro-Hamas demonstrations, while Stewart loudly declared that “repulsive acts of anti-Semitism” should be “unequivocally condemned by our leaders at all levels of government.” Stewart showed up for massive pro-Israel rallies, while Liberals found reasons to be elsewhere.

Stewart also ran on supporting Poilievre as prime minister-in-waiting and promised to advance his legislative agenda. Stewart said his campaign “echoes the things that Mr. Poilievre has said.”

“We want to axe the tax, build the homes, fix the budget and stop the crime. I think I can add to that in Parliament,” Stewart said.

Poilievre campaigned alongside Stewart and praised him as a “common-sense Conservative” who understands that Canadians are “sick of a government that taxes food, punishes work, doubles housing costs and unleashes crime and chaos in the community.”

Writing at the National Post on Tuesday, columnist Tasha Kheiriddin saluted Stewart as a “giant-killer” and predicted the pressure on Trudeau to resign before the next election would grow intense.

Kheiriddin said Trudeau dropping out would be the worst thing that could happen to Conservatives, because while their “consistent messaging on the economy” and “the populist wave that is sweeping the planet” might be the wind beneath their wings, popular disgust with Trudeau is the jet fuel in their engines.

Kheiriddin tossed in a bonus prediction that Trudeau’s replacement would not be Chrystia Freeland, who came off as ineffective and desperate while campaigning for Church in Toronto-St.Paul.

“Anyone who is part of the current Liberal inner circle will be promptly slammed by the Tories as Trudeau 2.0,” she noted.


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