Ottawa remained a bright spot for the Liberals Monday night, delivering seven of eight local seats to a party that fell shy of a repeat majority.
In 2015, the Grits soared from 34 to 184 seats in the House of Commons, in a stunning, come-from-behind sweep. Four years later the party was leading in 156 ridings nationwide as of 1 a.m., leaving it in minority territory.
In the capital, the Liberals defended all the seats they won in 2015, despite some tough races.
Just like the last election, Carleton is the only Ottawa riding to elect a Tory. Conservative Pierre Poilievre has proven incredibly hard to beat, and will return to Parliament for a sixth term. His Liberal opponent Chris Rodgers was a strong opponent for the second straight election, with early results putting Poilievre’s margin of victory at about 4,000 votes.
Most indicators throughout the campaign pointed to a decisive local Liberal showing on election day. There were piecemeal efforts by the other major parties and candidates to make inroads, but they weren’t enough to break the Liberal’s chokehold on the capital.
Led by Catherine McKenna, environment minister and now two-time victor in Ottawa Centre, Ottawa’s clique of Liberal incumbents were a constant presence around Ottawa over the last month.
Whether it was populating each other’s campaign launch parties, making joint platform announcements or marching together in the climate strike, the Liberals took a strength-in-numbers approach to keeping the capital red.
There were a few incumbents in stronghold Liberal ridings whose chances of victory were never really in doubt: David McGuinty in Ottawa South and Mona Fortier in Ottawa-Vanier. Both were projected to win their seats with just over 50 per cent of the vote.
Other ridings – Ottawa West–Nepean, Kanata–Carleton and Nepean – are fairly recent Liberal converts, but all had incumbent Liberal candidates who seem well-liked locally, and got through four years of governing and the election campaign without any major black marks on their individual records.
“We have showed that you can run a positive campaign and win,” said Ottawa West–Nepean Liberal Anita Vandenbeld, at her Monday night victory party.
Marie-France Lalonde, the clear winner in Orléans, was the newcomer to the federal Liberal team. She won the nomination in September, several months after incumbent Andrew Leslie announced he wasn’t running again. But as a Francophone and the former MPP for Orléans, she was already well-known and connected within the riding. Lalonde handily won Monday night, with polls showing she took more than half the votes in the riding.
In the final days of the campaign, local Liberals ramped up targeted us-versus-them rhetoric, invoking unpopular Ontario premier Doug Ford and the federal Conservatives’ proposed budget cuts to warn Ottawa that the Tories would wreak havoc on the capital. The only way to protect the public service and infrastructure projects like the next phase of LRT? Vote Liberal, they urged.
Campaigning by the other parties felt disjointed, in comparison. There were few, if any, local campaign announcements by Conservative candidates, and if they were working together, they didn’t show it. Many of the Tories running locally were new to politics, and leaned into their party platform when speaking publicly. Not that the Liberals didn’t parrot party talking points as well – it’s just that many Ottawans have historically been inclined to align with their party’s policy.
As a city that enjoys a high standard of living while remaining relatively affordable, the Tories’ “time for you to get ahead” messaging might not have had the same resonance with residents here as it did elsewhere. Employment is booming, and infrastructure is functioning well-enough. For many voters in the capital, “Choose forward” might have hit closer to home.
The city’s many federal public servants were on the receiving end of union-led anti-Conservative messaging, and the lack of any reference to the Phoenix pay system in their platform probably didn’t help the Tories’ case.
Same goes for the fact that the full platform was only released 10 days ago. This offered up a fresh target for Liberal attacks in the final stretch of the campaign.
Environmental concerns were also top-of-mind for many capital residents. Climate change dominated local all-candidates debates. Given the stark choice between the two leading parties on this file: one promising to continue with its climate plan, and the other pledging to revoke it, it’s not hard to imagine this provided the Liberals with an advantage.
Several NDP candidates fought hard and publicly to establish themselves as credible, progressive alternatives to their Liberal opponents. Angella MacEwen and Morgan Gay were among the most visible of the bunch.
But the only riding with a real history of electing New Democrats to Parliament is Ottawa Centre, and it’s here the party’s great hope for a breakthrough was concentrated.
Emilie Taman, a former crown prosecutor and community activist, saw NDP leader Jagmeet Singh visit her riding at least three times throughout the campaign. She was also the go-to spokesperson for New Democrat announcements in the capital region, and campaigned hard for more than half a year leading up to election day.
But she was up against McKenna, who took nothing for granted and also ran a dogged local campaign. And the close national race between the Liberals and the Conservatives may have steered progressive voters away from the NDP and into a strategic vote for the Grits – an outcome McKenna encouraged during the campaign.
Preliminary results Monday night put McKenna’s vote share just shy of 50 per cent. Taman managed 30 per cent, while Conservative Carol Clemenhagen took third place with just over 12 per cent.
The Conservative party sent some resources to Ottawa, but it didn’t earn battleground-level campaigning – the polls didn’t showed much chance for a Tory breakthrough here.
Alberta’s Conservative premier Jason Kenney dropped into a few local ridings before heading to the GTA earlier this month. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer paid a publicized visit to Ottawa, early in the campaign.
It didn’t go particularly well – he dropped by Kanata-Carleton to see Conservative candidate Justina McCaffrey, just as her past friendship with controversial alt-right personality Faith Goldy hit the headlines. McCaffrey also skipped a few local debates, which may have cost her some points with constituents. Late Monday night, with nearly all polls reporting, Liberal Karen McCrimmon commanded 43 per cent of the vote.
Across the river, Liberals were also re-elected in three west Quebec ridings. The working relationship between Liberal MPs in Ottawa and Gatineau has been a smooth one, and they campaigned together like a big Liberal family on several occasions.
In the rural ridings surrounding the city the Tories fared better, as is tradition. They went into the election with four of the five seats, and held on to all of them.
Glengarry–Prescott–Russell, a largely Francophone riding east of Ottawa, was projected to re-elect the sole rural-area Liberal, Francis Drouin.
As expected, the Green and the People’s party came away from the election without a seat in the capital region, though they both nominated candidates in every local riding, and showed up to every community debate this newspaper attended.