Canada’s Liberals suffer major upset in Toronto special election, raising doubts about Trudeau

TORONTO (AP) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party has suffered a major upset in a special election for a Toronto district it has held for three decades, raising doubts about Trudeau’s leadership ahead of next year’s general election.

Elections Canada reported Tuesday that opposition Conservative candidate Don Stewart won the Toronto-St. Paul’s district by almost 600 votes, 42.1% over the Liberal candidate’s 40.5% with all 192 polling stations reporting results of Monday’s voting.

“This was obviously not the result we wanted, but I want to be clear that I hear the concerns and frustrations,” Trudeau said in Vancouver.

“These are not easy times. And it is clear, that I and my entire Liberal team, have much more hard work to do to deliver tangible, real progress that Canadians can see and feel.”

The Liberals had held Toronto-St. Paul’s since 1993. It is one of 338 seats in Canada’s House of Commons.

Losing in Canada’s largest city, a traditional Liberal stronghold, does not bode well for Trudeau ahead of the election expected in the fall of 2025.

Trudeau has said he intends to lead the party into the next election. The Liberals have been in power since 2015 but are trailing badly in the polls amid concerns over the cost of living.

“Justin’s position is seriously weakened inside the party,” Canadian historian Robert Bothwell said.

Bothwell said there had been solidarity with Trudeau’s leadership, noting some have just left the government rather than publicly grumble, but he expects comments now.

One of Trudeau’s closest allies backed him.

“The prime minister is committed to leading us into the next election and he has our support,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said.

“The result in St. Paul’s is certainly disappointing. We knew it was going to be a hard fight. We know that these are hard times for Canadians. We know that we have to work hard to earn back their trust.”

The vote marks the first time Conservatives have beat the Liberals in Toronto proper since 2011.

Opposition Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre demanded that the prime minister call a snap election after what he described as a “shocking upset.”

“Here is the verdict: Trudeau can’t go on like this,” Poilievre said on X.

Nelson Wiseman, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, said the Liberals lost the district not because of a wave of support for Poilievre and his party but because of deepening distaste for Trudeau.

“The pressure on Trudeau to announce that he will be stepping down is now insurmountable,” Wiseman said. “Toronto-St. Paul’s was one of only 40 seats the Liberals won when they experienced their worst performance ever, in 2011.” If the Liberals cannot win this district, Wiseman said, “how can they hope to win a general election?”

Wiseman said the already anxious Liberal caucus will now go into a kind of panic mode. He noted the average shelf life of prime ministers since the 1950s has been about a decade.

“This is a very ominous sign for the Liberals,” said Daniel Béland, a political science professor at McGill University in Montreal. “The Conservatives have scored major political points by blaming him for the cost-of-living crisis.”

Canada’s annual inflation rate ticked higher in May, raising doubts about what the country’s central bank will do when it makes its next interest rate decision in July. Statistics Canada, a government agency, said Tuesday the annual rose to 2.9% in May and noted Canadians are paying 22.5% more for groceries compared with May 2020.

Trudeau reasserted the country’s liberal identity in 2015 after almost 10 years of Conservative rule. His legacy includes opening the doors wide to immigration. He also legalized cannabis and brought in a carbon tax to fight climate change.

Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, swept to power in 1968 on a wave of “Trudeaumania” and led Canada for almost 16 years.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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