In what appeared to be a surprising result to most, after languishing a distant third in opinion polls at the beginning of the campaign, Justin Trudeau – the son of the former prime minister – secured a resounding victory for his Liberal Party in Canada’s election on October 19th, capturing 184 seats in the 338 seat parliament. The incumbent Conservatives secured 99 seats; the left-leaning New Democratic Party garnered 44 seats; the Bloc Quebecois received 10 seats and the Green Party got one seat.
Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, announced that he would resign from the party leadership, and a convention will be held sometime in the future. Once Harper formally submits his resignation to the Governor General, the transition to a new government will commence.
Several items are key at this point. Trudeau must assemble a cabinet, which will likely contain a few old hands from the party (former Prime Minister Paul Martin figured heavily in many of Trudeau’s campaign stops as a way of suggesting the youngish leader carries with him some political experience – at least indirectly), and Trudeau must also address the 21 vacant Senate seats that he said would be filled through a process that is both “open” and “non-partisan.”
On the policy front, Trudeau said the first order of business would be an income tax cut for Canadians earning between $45,000 and $89,000 ($34,750–66,733 USD) annually. In order to cover the revenue shortfall, Trudeau has targeted the notorious “1%” of the Canada’s wealthiest individuals. As such, a new federal tax bracket of 33% will be installed for those making more than $200,000 ($154,450 USD), thus pushing the combined federal-provincial income tax rate above 50% in some provinces on the “rich.”
Trudeau also appears to be ready to chop Canada’s tax free savings account contribution from $10,000 ($7,727 USD) to its original $5,500 ($4,250 USD) – the Conservatives hiked it this year – adding during the campaign that very few Canadians had “$10,000 lying around.”
Trudeau also said his government would accept up to 25,000 Syrian refugees immediately (Harper’s government said it would only let in 10,000 individuals by next year). Some $250 million ($193 million USD) in total has been set aside to process and re-settle the refugees. The new leader also promised to address the issue of electoral reform within the first year or so of his government’s mandate, presumably doing something to correct the biases inherent in Canada’s single member plurality system.
Interestingly, the election – and what appeared to be at least a Liberal minority government for several weeks prior to the vote date – had almost no impact on the currency or the stock market, ostensibly because none of the issues that dominated the campaign really addressed the economy. There was little talk of Canada’s lackluster economic performance of late, although each party had something to say about public spending.
So, once the election victory hoopla subsides, Trudeau’s team will have to deal with some rather thorny issues, including the impact of low oil prices on parts of the economy, low consumer confidence levels, higher unemployment numbers, and a housing price bubble in several urban centers along with rising levels of personal debt. It will also be interesting to see how the government entertains a slightly more cooperative relationship with Washington (and a new US administration by the end of next year), particularly as it affects a turbulent Middle East.