What drove Canada’s Liberal Party election upset

Canadians woke up to a new political era, leaving behind nearly a decade of Conservative leadership. The Liberals won a resounding majority, ushering in Justin Trudeau as the next prime minister. Judy Woodruff learns more from John Northcott of the CBC.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And now to that stunning victory for the Liberal Party in Canada, and an incoming prime minister with politics in his blood, Justin Trudeau.

    The Liberals won a resounding majority with 184 seats out of 338, increasing their vote share in every province since the last election in 2011. Conservative seats dropped below 100, losing ground in every province except Quebec, and the New Democrats won 44 seats.

    Forty-three-year-old Justin Trudeau, a teacher and the son of the late Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, watched the election results with his young family.

    Later, he addressed his supporters in Montreal.

  • JUSTIN TRUDEAU, Leader, Liberal Party:

    Canadians have spoken. You want a government with a vision and an agenda for this country that is positive and ambitious and hopeful. Well, my friends I promise you tonight that I will lead that government.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • JUSTIN TRUDEAU:

    I will make that vision a reality. I will be that prime minister.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Outgoing Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper conceded his loss in Calgary last night. He also quit as leader of the Conservative Party.

    For more on the Canadian vote, I'm joined by John Northcott of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

    John Northcott, welcome.

    So, this was a surprise.

  • JOHN NORTHCOTT, CBC:

    Yes, very much so.

    The polls had it neck and neck for a while, and then in the few days before the election, there was a suggestion there might be a minority one way or the other, either for the Conservatives or for the Liberals. Very few, though, even in the hours up to Election Day, and the results coming in last night, really thought that Justin Trudeau could get, if not a majority, then the majority that he got, the resounding majority, effectively quintupling his results from before.

    No party has ever gone from what is effectively third-party place to a resounding majority like that in Canadian electoral history.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What happened last night? What changed?

  • JOHN NORTHCOTT:

    Well, a number of things changed.

    It was the longest campaign in modern Canadian electoral history. It allowed the electorate to get to know the candidates, in the case of the incumbent prime minister, Stephen Harper, perhaps got to know him a little too well, to the point where dislike became a sharpened point of hate in some cases.

    As for Justin Trudeau, the public didn't know him that well. He had been the subject of long, withering attack campaign from the Conservatives even long before the election was called. Effectively, what they did, arguably, was lower expectations to the point where he had to only exceed them. The joke is made that he only had to show up for the debates wearing pants and he'd make a positive impression.

    He did show up. He did wear pants. And he had very few missteps. Many are saying that he ran a very smart campaign. He's young. He's energetic. And over time, over those 11 weeks — and I know that's short by American standards, but it's very long by Canadian standards — the public decide that he deserved a chance.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Why was Harper so unpopular?

  • JOHN NORTHCOTT:

    Well, it was a variety of things. He'd been in power a long time and the sense of a familiarity breeding contempt there.

    But at the same time, he had a number of policies that, group by group, the opposition added up against him. At various times, he has not fared well with veterans. He has not fared well with farmers. He has not fared well with the elderly. This, as you can imagine, is a core constituency for a party on the far right.

    And over time, people grew sick of him, and in the last days of the campaign, what appeared to be a number of desperation members — movements, rather, including showing up at an event with Rob Ford, you will remember, the disgraced former mayor of Toronto, admitted crack user and heavy drinker, many saw that as a final desperation move by Harper to garner last votes. And there was blood in the water, and people at that point really decided that they had had enough right across the country.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I read that it was also his positions on climate change, on foreign military intervention. And what is it about this dispute about Muslim women wearing the face veil, the niqab? What was that all about?

  • JOHN NORTHCOTT:

    Yes. That, too, sparked a lot of concern in the final days of the campaign.

    Effectively, his party has argued that women shouldn't be allowed to show up for the citizenship swearing-in ceremony wearing the niqab. Now, you have to present yourself. You have to reveal yourself to a female officer, and identify yourself with proper documentation.

    But for the public swearing-in ceremony, there was a raging debate that ended up in the courts, with the government of Stephen Harper saying, no, these women had to show their faces, the women saying, no, they didn't feel comfortable showing their faces in a public way in the ceremony. They won in court and where actually one in particular was sworn in and managed to vote on Election Day.

    That had a lot of people, some of the hard right, they were attracted by that position, but Harper went on to say he might even consider bringing in this sort of thing in the federal civil service with public displays of religion. And a lot of people had thought of, say, for example, the Jewish skullcap, the Sikh turban, and they started thinking, you know what? This is going too far.

    And it became a battle in the last few days over values, Canadian values, what do we hold dear, the ability to come to this country, to immigrate to this country and to be free to be yourself.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Let me just quickly ask you in the end, what do people expect Trudeau to do differently? What is he saying he's going to change?

  • JOHN NORTHCOTT:

    Well, the Liberals have a long tradition of running from the left and governing from the right.

    So, you are not going to see a niqab debate. That's for sure. You're going to see some spending on infrastructure. Many parts of Canada, major cities, need things like increased transit and better roads, so you're going to see some spending and some job creation there as well.

    But as far as the business community, as far as dealing with our largest trading partner across the border in the United States, you are going to see someone who is pro-trade, someone who is pro-pipeline in terms of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline moving through the United States and going into the Gulf of Mexico. And you are going to see someone who wants to do business with the world, despite being called — quote, unquote — as "a liberal."

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    John Northcott of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, getting used to a new prime minister, we thank you.

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