Trudeau, however, fell short of his target of winning the necessary 170 seats to form a majority government.
As at 2 a.m. ET, Elections Canada showed the Liberals winning 157 seats compared to the Conservatives’ 122 seats, with nearly 95% of polls across the country reporting.
The remaining seats in the next Parliament will be held by the left-leaning New Democratic Party and the Quebec-based separatist party Bloc Quebecois.
“You are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get Canada through this pandemic and to the brighter days ahead. My friends, that’s exactly what we are ready to do,” Trudeau told supporters from Montreal early Tuesday.
“What we’ve seen tonight is that millions of Canadians have chosen a progressive plan. Some have talked about division but that’s not what I see. That’s not what I’ve seen these past weeks across the country.”
Trudeau called the snap election in mid-August, barely two years into his minority government, betting he could capitalize on his handling of the pandemic to win a majority.
But once-favorable polls for Trudeau and his Liberals quickly reversed course, with the Conservative Party’s O’Toole fighting his way into a statistical tie, according to national tracking surveys over the past few days.
Covid-19, climate change, housing affordability and gun control have all featured as major issues with voters – but one headache for Trudeau is that few Canadians saw the need for this election. One political expert told CNN that holding a snap election in the summer during a global pandemic has angered many voters who cannot identify a compelling “ballot box” issue to justify the undertaking.
O’Toole had sought to capitalize on the perception that Trudeau, the son of a former Canadian prime minister, is a classic liberal political elitist who is more interested in his own political ambition that leading the country.
Speaking to his supporters early Tuesday, O’Toole called the snap election a “quick power grab.”
“Five weeks ago Mr Trudeau asked for a majority, he said the minority parliament was ‘unworkable.’ But tonight Canadians did not give Mr Trudeau the majority mandate he wanted,” O’Toole said. “In fact Canadians sent him back with another minority at the cost of $600 million Canadian dollars and deeper divisions in our great country.”
During the campaign, O’Toole attacked Trudeau in a way uncommon in Canadian politics.
“Every Canadian has met a Justin Trudeau in their lives – privileged, entitled and always looking out for number one. He was looking out for number one when he called this expensive and unnecessary election in the middle of a pandemic. That’s not leadership, that’s self interest. And it’s Justin Trudeau through and through,” O’Toole said at a recent campaign event.
Trudeau responded in a similarly robust fashion, saying: “I’m going to let him and his proxies and the anti-vaxxer movement and the gun lobby and the anti-choice crowd continue to attack me, fine. I’m going to stay focused on Canadians.”
As much as candidates have tried to engage meaningfully on issues, a ripple of polarization among voters – one that seems to mirror the US experience – is emerging, especially on cultural or so-called “wedge” issues like abortion rights, gun control and climate change.
The pandemic in particular has ignited fury among a small but fierce minority that oppose some Covid-19 protocols, especially vaccine and mask mandates. Earlier this month a protester threw gravel at Trudeau at a campaign event in Ontario, after the Canadian leader had been stalked by demonstrators angry with his pandemic policies.
CNN’s Luke McGee contributed