By Steve Scherer, David Ljunggren and Julie Gordon
MONTREAL/OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on track to retain power, television networks projected on Monday as results trickled in, but looked set to fall short of his goal for a majority win.
Trudeau, in power since 2015 and governing with a minority since 2019, decided to gamble on an early vote and capitalize on his government’s handling of the pandemic, which included massive spending to support individuals and businesses and pushing for high vaccination rates.
Instead, he will end up where he started after an unexpectedly tight election race characterized by a lackluster campaign and voter anger at an election during a pandemic.
CBC and CTV said Trudeau’s Liberal government would hold a minority of seats in the House of Commons.
Elections Canada showed the Liberals leading in 156 electoral districts nationally, one more than they held before the election, including 111 in vote-rich Ontario and Quebec.
“It’s a Groundhog Day election,” said Gerald Baier, a professor of political science at University of British Columbia. “It seems that ambivalence has stayed (from the 2019 election).”
Trudeau was slated to speak at 0030 ET (0430 GMT).
The House of Commons holds 338 seats and a party needs to win 170 to hold a majority. The Conservatives were in second place, leading in 123 districts.
Polls reported results much more slowly than usual, with some stations forced to limit occupancy due to COVID-19 restrictions. Long lines forced some electors to wait hours to vote in southern Ontario, a critical battleground.
Only about one-third of polls in Quebec and Ontario had reported results and only 5% in British Columbia, another province with tight races and numerous seats.
The Canadian dollar strengthened as early results came in, rising 0.3%.
Trudeau, 49, a charismatic progressive and son of former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, swept to power in 2015. But the Liberals dropped to a minority in 2019 after Trudeau was damaged in part by disclosures that he had worn blackface years ago.
Amid a fourth wave of COVID-19, Trudeau backed vaccine mandates while Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, 48, opposed them, preferring a combination of voluntary vaccinations and rapid testing to stop the spread of the virus.
Trudeau had said he needed a new mandate to ensure Canadians approve of his plan for getting the country past the coronavirus pandemic. The Liberals, whose fiscal policy supports for the pandemic exceed 23% of GDP, plan billions in new spending to support economic recovery if re-elected.
Cambridge Global Payments Chief Strategist Karl Schamotta said the election result “essentially preserves the status quo and ensures that the fiscal spending plans that have supported the economy for the last year and half are likely to continue.”
A delay in counting mail-in votes could further hold up results in tight races.
Elections Canada will not start counting roughly 800,000 mail-in ballots until Tuesday, after it is able to verify them against in-person votes. Those could help to determine the outcome in at least two Atlantic districts and many more across Canada.
A second minority government will mean Trudeau’s Liberals will have to rely again on opposition parties, such as the left-leaning New Democratic Party, to pass legislation.
“A win’s a win, and time in office and power is when you get to make change,” said John Duffy, a former Liberal adviser.
Canada’s Trudeau headed for another minority in ‘status quo’ election – TV