Canadians gave Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party a victory in Monday’s parliamentary elections, projections by the Canadian Press and the national networks showed.
The Liberals were leading or elected in 156 seats — one less than they won 2019, and 14 short of the 170 needed for a majority in the House of Commons, AP reported.
"You are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get Canada through this pandemic," Mr Trudeau said in his victory speech on Monday night. "Canadians have chosen a progressive plan. Some have talked about division but that's not what I see."
Mr Trudeau is set to form another minority government.
"No matter how you voted, just like no matter where you come from, what language you speak, the colour of your skin, the way you pray, I hear you," he said.
While the votes are still being counted, the final seat tally is not expected to change significantly from when the House of Commons was dissolved in early August.
"It's a Groundhog Day election... Not a huge movement one way or the other," said Gerald Baier, associate professor of political science at the University of British Columbia.
The 49-year-old Mr Trudeau called the election two years before the deadline, betting on Canadians not wanting a Conservative government during a pandemic.
Canada is now among the most fully vaccinated countries in the world and Mr Trudeau’s government spent hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up the economy amid lockdowns.
He argued that the Conservatives’ approach, which has been sceptical of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, would be dangerous and has said Canadians need a government that follows science.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole didn’t require his party’s candidates to be vaccinated and would not say how many were unvaccinated.
Mr O’Toole described vaccination as a personal health decision, but a growing number of vaccinated Canadians are increasingly upset with those who refuse to get vaccinated.
Mr Trudeau supports making vaccines mandatory for Canadians to travel by air or rail, something the Conservatives oppose. He has pointed out that Alberta, run by a Conservative provincial government, is in crisis.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, an ally of Mr O’Toole, said the province might run out of beds and staff for intensive care units within days.
Mr Kenney apologised for the dire situation and is now reluctantly introducing a vaccine passport and imposing a mandatory work-from-home order two months after lifting nearly all restrictions.
A Conservative win would have represented a rebuke of Mr Trudeau against a politician with a fraction of his name recognition. Mr O’Toole, 47, is a military veteran, former lawyer and a member of Parliament for nine years.
Mr O’Toole advertised himself a year ago as a “true-blue Conservative”. He became Conservative Party leader with a pledge to “take back Canada”, but immediately started working to push the party towards the political centre.
Mr O’Toole’s strategy, which included disavowing positions held dear by his party’s base on issues such as climate change, guns and balanced budgets, was designed to appeal to a broader cross-section of voters in a country that tends to be far more liberal than its southern neighbour. The son of a long-time politician has faced criticism he will say and do anything to get elected.
Adrian Archambault, a 53-year-old Vancouver resident, voted Liberal and said he did not mind the election was held during a pandemic. He said provincial elections had also been held during the pandemic.
“Everybody has been so preoccupied with Covid the last few years it wasn’t maybe a bad thing to sort of do a re-check,” he said.
Mr Trudeau’s legacy includes embracing immigration at a time when the US and other countries closed their doors. He also legalised cannabis nationwide and brought in a carbon tax to fight climate change.
He preserved free trade deal with the US and Mexico amid threats by former US President Donald Trump to scrap the agreement.