MONTREAL/OTTAWA (Reuters) -Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are on track to win the Canadian election, the CBC and CTV television networks projected as results trickled in, but they look set to fall short of their goal for a decisive, majority win.
Trudeau heads a government with a minority of House of Commons seats that relies on the support of other parties to pass legislation. He called an election two years early in hopes of securing a parliamentary majority.
CBC and CTV said the Liberal government would hold a minority of seats in the House of Commons.
Elections Canada showed the Liberals leading in 155 electoral districts nationally, the same number they held before the election, including 109 in vote-rich Ontario and Quebec.
“It’s a Groundhog Day election,” said Gerald Baier, a professor of political science at University of British Columbia. “It seems that ambivalence has stayed (from the 2019 election).”
The House of Commons holds 338 seats and a party needs to win 170 to hold a majority.
The Conservatives were in second place, leading in 121 districts.
“People would be very pleasantly surprised if there was a Liberal majority government, within the Liberal camp, but I think it’s still way too soon to make that call,” Gerald Butts, a former top Trudeau adviser and close friend, told CBC TV.
Polls reported results much more slowly than usual, with some stations forced to limit occupancy due to COVID-19 restrictions. Long lines forced some electors to wait hours to vote in southern Ontario, a critical battleground.
Only about one-third of polls in Quebec and Ontario had reported results and only 5% in British Columbia, another province with tight races and numerous seats.
The Canadian dollar strengthened as early results came in, rising 0.3%.
Trudeau, 49, a charismatic progressive and son of former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, swept to power in 2015. But the Liberals dropped to a minority in 2019 after Trudeau was damaged in part by disclosures that he had worn blackface years ago.
Amid a fourth wave of COVID-19, Trudeau backs vaccine mandates while Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, 48, opposes them and prefers a combination of voluntary vaccinations and rapid testing to stop the spread of the virus.
In the first set of regional results, Liberals were leading or elected in 23 of 32 parliamentary districts in the four Atlantic provinces. The Liberals held 27 seats before the election.
A delay in counting mail-in votes could further hold up results in tight races.
Elections Canada will not start counting roughly 800,000 mail-in ballots until Tuesday, after it is able to verify them against in-person votes. Those could help to determine the outcome in at least two Atlantic districts and many more across Canada.
After voting in downtown Montreal, Jonathan Goldbloom and his 95-year-old mother, Sheila Goldbloom, said they supported Trudeau’s handling of the pandemic.
“He showed great leadership on the file and he’s the one who said that everyone needs to get vaccinated. I don’t feel that the Tories have been consistent in that message,” Jonathan Goldbloom said, using another term for Conservatives.
Wayne Boone, who was walking over to vote in Ottawa, said he supported O’Toole’s Conservatives for their fiscal restraint.
“And I’m not very happy with Pierre Jr. – as I call him – Justin Trudeau, because he tends to just spend money that we will never have,” Boone said.
Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon, Allison Lampert, Moira Warburton, Fergal Smith, and Amran Abocar; Writing by Rod Nickel; Editing by Peter Cooney and Edmund Klamann