It was all cheers and free beers at Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hotel on Monday night, as the hundreds of gathered Liberal supporters celebrated the next prime minister of Canada: Justin Trudeau.
"Canadians from all across this country sent a clear message tonight. It's time for a change in this country my friends, a real change," the Prime Minister-elect told that gathered crowd, who replied with to ruckus applause and cheers of "Trudeau! Trudeau!"
Trudeau defied early critics and polls to lead his party to a shockingly strong win in the longest Canadian election in over 100 years, ending the decade long rule of Stephen Harper's Conservative government. Sweeping the maritimes and picking up key ridings in the battlegrounds Quebec and Ontario, the Liberals took 184 seats across the country, which will allow them to form a majority government when parliament reconvenes.
The son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the young party leader was able to steer the Liberals from their early position of third place behind the Conservatives and New Democratic Party through a series of debate performances that demonstrated a strong, if scripted, mastery of the issues and undercut critics inclined to dismiss him as little more than a famous name and a good haircut.
"Tonight we proved that you can appeal to the better angels of our nature, and you can win while doing it," Trudeau told the crowd. "I hope that it is an inspiration to like-minded people across the country … to know that a positive, optimistic, hopeful vision of public life isn't a naive dream."
Youthful naivety is a charge that plagued Trudeau since his name was first put forward for Liberal leadership back in 2008. But in the last weeks of this election the 43-year-old leader was able to turn his youth into an advantage as voters looked for a party that could deliver change.
In an election where polling has consistently showed that the majority of Canadians did not wish to offer the Conservatives a fourth mandate, the Liberals struggled early on while the NDP seemed poised to take the lion's share of the left-leaning vote. But in the past weeks as NDP numbers slumped — partially due to Conservatives and Bloc Québécois attacks focusing on the of divisive issue of the niqab in Quebec —the Liberals were able to position themselves as a credible alternative to the Harper government.
"Especially when it comes to a government that's been in power for 10 years, a lot of young people feel that it's been the same people in government for too long," Ali Zia, a 27-year-old who volunteered with the Liberals in Montreal, told VICE News. "It's time for a new generation to come in."
Beyond youthful promises of a fresh start, the Liberal's massive success is the result of positioning themselves as the party best able to defeat the Conservatives in the lead-up to the election. In a reverse of 2011 when the NDP swept 59 of the Quebec's 75 seats, the Liberals were able to pick up many ridings throughout the province by culling strategic votes from citizens whose priority was outing Harper more than it was supporting Mulcair or Trudeau specifically.
With a Liberal sticker proudly displayed on her chest and a Heineken in hand, 37-year-old Lesley Reade told VICE News that she'd voted Liberal in Justin Trudeau's home riding of Papineau, despite favoring the policies of both the NDP and the Green Party.
"I just really wanted Harper gone, so I totally made a strategic vote," Reade said. "[Harper] just ran our country into shit, and I'm confident that Trudeau has a vision for the future of the country."
Many of the Liberal's new ridings come from the NDP who were reduced from official opposition to a mere 44 seats, but even more came from the Conservatives who lost 67 seats, including those of several Harper cabinet ministers.
For many Liberal supporters who endured the party's demoralizing defeat in 2011 and months of the Harper campaign telling Canadians that Trudeau 'just isn't ready,' tonight's proof otherwise was especially sweet.
"What matters here is that Canadians voted for change," Liberal volunteer Eric Hendry told VICE News. "But just to know that we defeated Stephen Harper's political machine is so incredibly gratifying."
Follow Jake Bleiberg on Twitter: @JZbleiberg
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