Justin Trudeau—the Canadian prime minister who became an international sensation upon his election before a recent series of political missteps and scandals—is projected to narrowly avoid being knocked out of power.
Polls ahead of the contentious election Monday showed Trudeau’s Liberal Party locked in a tight race against Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party, with it being likely that neither side would gain enough momentum to win an outright majority in Parliament.
Canadians don’t choose a leader, but voters in each of the country’s 338 federal ridings, or electoral districts, pick candidates to represent them in the House of Commons. If a party secures a majority by winning at least 170 ridings, it can form its own government.
As of Monday evening, it was not immediately known if the Liberal party secured a majority government.
Trudeau, the 47-year-old son of longtime Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, won in a landslide in 2015, bringing his progressive values and star power to the office. Throughout his first term, he’s been a fierce champion of diversity, immigration rights, and the legalization of recreational marijuana. Under his leadership, Canada saw its lowest unemployment rate in decades and became part of global conversations about climate change.
A year ago, Trudeau’s re-election may have seemed like a done deal, but his reputation suffered after a series of scandals, with some of his rivals labeling him “a fraud.”
Last month, Time magazine published a 2001 photograph in which Trudeau’s face is covered in dark makeup for an Arabian Nights-themed gala at a private school where he taught two decades ago. Within hours, two more photos surfaced of the Canadian leader wearing blackface: one of Trudeau singing the Jamaican folk song “Day-O” and another of him sticking his tongue out while using dark makeup.
While the prime minister has repeatedly apologized for the offensive incidents, he admitted he did not know how many times he has used skin-darkening makeup in the past.
“He can’t even remember how many times he put blackface on, because the fact of the matter is he’s always wearing a mask,” Scheer, 40, said in the last two-hour debate on Oct. 7. “Mr. Trudeau, you are a phony and you are a fraud, and you do not deserve to govern this country.”
The blackface scandal came after Canada’s ethics watchdog concluded that Trudeau violated the nation’s ethics regulations when he allegedly pressured his then-justice minister to cut an out-of-court settlement with engineering and construction company SNC-Lavalin. His alleged efforts to protect SNC-Lavalin from criminal prosecution after it was accused of having dealt for a a decade with the Gadhafi regime in Libya prompted multiple resignations within Trudeau’s cabinet and inner circle.
“When did you decide that the rules don’t apply to you?” Scheer asked Trudeau during an Oct. 7 debate.
“The role of a prime minister is to stand up for Canadians’ jobs, to stand up for the public interest, and that is what I’ve done and that is what I will continue to do,” Trudeau replied.
Trudeau addressed the scandals in several final campaign stops, pleading voters to look past his missteps and allow him to build on his first-term achievements.
He also warned voters about Scheer’s proposed rollback of environmental protections, including his pledge to “use every legislative tool” to repeal the Liberal Party’s federal carbon tax. Trudeau has committed Canada to net-zero emissions by 2050.
“We need a strong, progressive government that will unite Canadians and fight climate change—not a progressive opposition,” Trudeau told voters at a Vancouver rally on Sunday. “We need to unite as citizens. We need to unite as a planet.”
As the embattled Canadian leader’s approval numbers sank to a near-record low last week, former U.S. President Barack Obama endorsed him in a well-timed tweet, calling Trudeau the progressive leader the world needs.
“I was proud to work with Justin Trudeau as President. He’s a hard-working, effective leader who takes on big issues like climate change,” Obama tweeted. “The world needs his progressive leadership now, and I hope our neighbors to the north support him for another term.”
Scheer, a 40-year-old father of five, has faced his own hurdles since becoming a party leader in 2017. Throughout the campaign, experts say, he has struggled to define himself against the other six party leaders. Voters outside his base and party opponents have also slammed Scheer for his anti-abortion views, his refusal to address his beliefs about same-sex marriage, and his views on climate change.
Last month, The Globe and Mail also revealed the Conservative leader misrepresented his previous work experience in the insurance industry on his résumé and revealed that he has dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship. In response, Scheer told voters he sought in August to renounce his U.S. citizenship.
On the campaign trail Sunday, Sheer said Canada “cannot afford” a Liberal government propped up by the third-place New Democratic Party—focusing on the economic ramifications of re-electing Trudeau.
“We can only imagine what the NDP’s price would be to keep Justin Trudeau in power,” he said. “Whatever it is, we know Trudeau would pay any price to stay in power and he’d use your money to do it.”