At exactly 9:39 p.m., Justin Trudeau walked into the the Beaver Club, home to the private Liberal Party of Canada party on the ground floor of the Queen Elizabeth hotel. Dressed in a casually unbuttoned blue shirt and black slacks, he grabbed a Molson Export, hugged his wife and gave a Trudeau-esque shoulder shrug at the giant screen broadcasting his imminent victory behind him. Then he proceeded to hug everyone else in the room.
Five minutes later, Trudeau hardly reacted when CTV called the election for him. The lack of surprise from him and his circle was palpable. Early in the campaign I spoke to a woman who knew Trudeau 20 years ago when he was at McGill and regularly tearing up and down the Saint Laurent strip. He hated always having to talk politics in those days, but also knew in the back of his mind that he would be drawn into them eventually.
That piece of manifest destiny completed itself in that shrug in the Beaver Club last night. He knew he had it even before the television did. So he smiled and smiled and accepted more hugs, more selfies, more of the love he’s felt throughout what has been a largely blemish-free campaign. “He’s the calmest guy in the room,” said Terry DiMonte.
Upstairs, there was no one to cheer when the East Coast results started streaming into Trudeau headquarters. Le Grand Salon room of the Queen Elizabeth was still a holding pattern of cameras and gaffing tape when news came that Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt lost his riding. No one seemed to notice or react when he gave his concession speech at 9:20 p.m. In Montreal, Trudeau’s adopted home and political anteroom, the Liberal victory began as cautiously optimistic as the campaign itself. And then it quickly turned into a zoo.
Within a flash the room was full, lights blazing, crowd screaming, the room practically painted Liberal red. Trudeau, now properly dressed in a jacket for what seemed like the first time in the campaign, did a slow, measured walk to the stage and in a voice made hoarse by the 78-day campaign, he began. “Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways. This is what positive politics can do. This is what a hopeful vision, platform and a team together can make happen,” he said.
He thanked everyone: his wife and kids, the Liberal candidates, its 18,000 volunteers, his Montreal riding of Papineau. He moved on to his chief adviser, Gerald Butts, and Liberal election chair Katie Telford, the two linchpins of the Liberal campaign. He thanked Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair to cheers from the crowd. “Conservatives are not our enemies, they are our neighbours,” he said, in a bit of typically vigorous modesty.
He hit on all the broad strokes of the campaign: honouring treaties with Indigenous people, the importance of the middle class, the often crumbling communities that will now (if his campaign promises are to be believed) will be subject to the biggest infrastructure investment in modern Canadian history. “You are the inspiration for our effort, you were the reason why we worked so hard to be here tonight, and you will be at the heart of this new government.”
“You’ve given me clear marching orders. You want a government that works as hard as you do, one that spends every minute of every day growing the economy, creating jobs and strengthening the middle class. One that is devoted to helping those less fortunate Canadians work their way into the middle class.”
Notably, he welcomed Quebec back into the governmental fold after over two decades in conspicuous opposition. He pledged to work with the provinces—words that belied his own father’s actions. “Tonight, together, we’ve chosen to re-engage in the governance of a country so that it reflects our values and our ambitions,” he said in French. “I will be the prime minister of all Canadians.”
He ended the speech with an unspoken rebuke of the anti-niqab campaign wrought by the Conservatives in all of Canada and the Bloc Québécois in Quebec. The niqab fight was arguably the lowest point in the last 78 days. As it turns out, it was also as ineffectual as it was hateful.
“Last week I met a young mom in St. Catharines, Ont. She practises the Muslim faith. She was wearing a hijab. Through the crowd, she handed me her infant daughter. And as she leaned forward, she said something that I will never forget. She said she’s voting for us because she wants to make sure that her little girl has the right to make her own choices in life. To her, I say this: Your citizens have chosen a new government. A government that believes deeply in the diversity of our country. We know in our bones that Canada was built by people from all corners of the world.”
He received the second-loudest cheer of the night. The loudest came right after, as he waved, kissed his wife, and left as triumphant as he came.