TORONTO (AP) – Justin Trudeau faced a possible humiliating defeat as Canadians voted in parliamentary elections Monday, just four years after he channeled his father’s star power to become prime minister.
Handsome and charismatic, Trudeau reasserted liberalism in 2015 after almost 10 years of Conservative Party government in Canada, but a series of scandals combined with high expectations have damaged his prospects.
Early results had the Liberals leading in 24 of the region’s 32 ridings, or districts. The Conservatives were leading in six and the NDP in one. But many of the ridings only had a handful of polls reporting and some of the races were extremely tight, and it was too soon to tell whether Trudeau would be able to fend off a strong challenge from the Conservative Party led by Andrew Scheer.
Trudeau, son of the liberal icon and late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, is one of the few remaining progressive leaders in the world. He has been viewed as a beacon for liberals in the Trump era, even appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine under the headline “Why Can’t He Be Our President?”
Polls indicate Trudeau’s Liberal Party could lose to the rival Conservatives, or perhaps win but still fail to get a majority of seats in Parliament and have to rely on an opposition party to remain in power.
“It’s a coin toss,” said Nik Nanos, a Canadian pollster.
Not in 84 years has a first-term Canadian prime minister with a parliamentary majority lost a bid for re-election. Perhaps sensing Trudeau was in trouble, Barack Obama made an unprecedented endorsement by a former American president in urging Canadians to re-elect Trudeau and saying the world needs his progressive leadership now.
But old photos of Trudeau in blackface and brownface surfaced last month, casting doubt on his judgment.
Scheer is a career politician who is seen as a possible antidote to Trudeau’s flash. Scheer, 40, calls Trudeau a phony who can’t even recall how many times he has worn blackface.
Trudeau also was hurt by a scandal that erupted this year when his former attorney general said he pressured her to halt the prosecution of a Quebec company. Trudeau has said he was standing up for jobs, but the damage gave a boost to the Conservative Party.
No party is expected to get a majority of Parliament’s 338 seats, so a shaky alliance may be needed to pass legislation.
If Conservatives should win the most seats – but not a majority – they would probably try to form a government with the backing of Quebec’s separatist Bloc Quebecois party. Trudeau’s Liberals would likely rely on the New Democrats to stay in power.
No one party is expected to draw support from across Canada, with the Conservatives strong in the western part of the country, the Liberals dominating Ontario, the Bloc in Quebec and the New Democrats perhaps leading in British Columbia, Nanos said.
“One of the outcomes of this election might be the rise of regional division,” Nanos said.
If a minority government emerges, the big question is who will be kingmaker, the Bloc or the New Democrats, Nanos said. He said Trudeau is most likely to win the largest number of seats, because Ontario, where the Liberals are strong, has the most seats.
Scheer has promised to end a national carbon tax and cut government spending, including foreign aid, by 25%. “That money belongs to you, not to them,” Scheer said.
Trudeau embraced immigration at a time when the U.S. and other countries are closing their doors, and he legalized cannabis nationwide.
His efforts to strike a balance on the environment and the economy have been criticized by both the right and left. He brought in a carbon tax to fight climate change but rescued a stalled pipeline expansion project to get Alberta’s oil to international markets.
His also negotiated a new free trade deal for Canada with the U.S. and Mexico amid threats by U.S. President Donald Trump to scrap it.
Pat Gill, a Vancouver retiree, said she voted for Trudeau.
“I think people know he’s made some mistakes,” said Gill, who is 74. “I’m hoping he’s learned in the last four years. I still think he’s our best bet.”
Associated Press writer Jim Morris in Vancouver, British Columbia, contributed to this report.