Elections tend to reveal hard truths about political leaders and parties. This one was no different.
The Liberals managed to sustain their minority government by winning a few more seats than they won in 2019. But the failure to win a majority — the main reason Leader Justin Trudeau called this election — confirms that neither party nor leader are quite as smart as they thought they were.
However, in many ways, the truth revealed for Erin O'Toole's Tories on election night is entirely more painful.
Even in an election where the incumbent was significantly weakened and ripe for the plucking, the Tories could not muster enough support outside its rock-solid base to capture the seats necessary to win the election.
The Conservatives had a clear path to victory in this election. However, despite his better efforts to update the platform, O'Toole was significantly slowed down by his party's dogmatic baggage.
The true optimists in the Tory ranks will want people to focus on the fact that, for the second consecutive election, O'Toole's party received more votes than the Liberals. Although noteworthy, that metric doesn't really tell the story this time.
The fact is, when you compare the number of Canadians who voted for progressive parties — Liberal, NDP and Green — with those who voted for the Tories and the People's Party, it becomes clear just how steep the hill is for O'Toole.
The final results will not be available for a couple of days while election officials tabulate nearly one million mail-in ballots. But if we use preliminary results, nearly 8.4 million Canadians voted for progressive or left-of-centre parties compared to about 6.2 million who voted for the Conservatives and PPC.
That gap — more than two million votes and counting — confirms the hardest truth for O'Toole and his party: Canada is simply not as conservative as the Conservative party, and no amount of campaign advertising or canvassing is going to change that reality.
Tories need to ask themselves an important question: is it possible to have a genuinely conservative government but take a more contemporary stand on issues such as abortion and gun control?
That gap ‐ more than two million votes and counting ‐ conforms the hardest truth for O'Toole and his party: Canada is simply not as conservative as the Conservative party, and no amount of campaign advertising or canvassing is going to change that reality.
There is absolutely no doubt the majority of Canadians do not want government to make changes to limit access to abortions, but would like it to limit access to assault-style firearms.
Most Canadians want government to invest more in public health care and do not want people to be able to pay for the privilege of jumping surgical wait lists.
And as far as the pandemic is concerned, the overwhelming majority of Canadians support vaccines and mandates and do not want to vote for a party that won't even divulge the vaccine status of its candidates.
If you lead a political party that is on the wrong side of all those issues, you have very little chance of success in an election. Even when your opponents have opened the door.
However, the results show right-of-centre voters did not rally to O'Toole's cause. Some bolted for the PPC and its incendiary mix of anti-mask, anti-vaccination, anti-immigration and pro-libertarian policies. Others decided to stay home.
Voter turnout was down significantly in every region of the country. But there were some particularly disheartening results for Tories. Even with Trudeau provoking the electorate with an early election call, 800,000 more Canadians voted for the Andrew Scheer-led Conservatives in 2019 than for O'Toole this time around. Why didn't more of those people show up to topple Trudeau?
This is where the Tories are doubly cursed in the current political landscape. Not only do they embrace policies at odds with the majority of Canadians, but any attempt to stray from those core policies tends to spark a backlash.
Some support was siphoned off by the PPC and its more extreme right-wing positions. But in Alberta, Conservatives suffered a double-digit loss in support that translated into one win for the Liberals in Calgary and two for New Democrats in Edmonton. That's only possible if militant Conservatives sat this one out.
Core Tory support is more solid and more resilient than support for any other federal party. But it is also less open to change or nuance.
When O'Toole introduced a carbon-pricing scheme in the pre-writ period, hard-core Tories raised an eyebrow. And during the campaign, when he proposed worker representatives on the boards of publicly traded companies, his supporters frowned.
And then, when it was revealed that O'Toole had the most expensive platform of any party, you could almost hear devoted Tories rolling their eyes.
That leaves the leader in a no-win position.
He has offered to stay on, and pledged to continue "showing more Canadians that they are welcome in the Conservative Party of Canada." But to actually do that, he somehow needs to convince the core to embrace more moderate, more progressive policies.
Otherwise, the big-tent party O'Toole keeps threatening to build will never be more than half-full.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.