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Justin Trudeau said he had been given a "clear mandate" with his Liberal Party on course to secure the most seats in Canada's general election and form another minority government.
But many Canadians reacted with fury at the prime minister's decision to call a pandemic election that has left the country virtually where it started after a closely fought campaign.
Looking red eyed but relieved, the Canadian prime minister told an election night party in Montreal: "You are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get through this pandemic into brighter days ahead".
"There are still votes to be counted. But what we've seen tonight is that millions of Canadians have chosen a progressive plan," the 49-year-old Liberal leader said.
The Liberals were on course to take 157 ridings, the Conservatives 122, the Quebec-based Bloc Quebecois 31 and the leftist New Democratic Party 26 on Tuesday morning.
The results show the ruling Liberals failed to significantly advance the 155 seats they held in August to secure the 170 seats needed for a majority in the 338-seat House of Commons.
Mr Trudeau was accompanied by his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and their two children on stage at the gala in the city's Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel.
The prime minister singled out his mother, Margaret Trudeau, 73, in the front row of the crowd, "for always being there".
Despite the upbeat speech, Mr Trudeau's hold on power has been damaged by his failure to secure to a majority government after choosing to call a snap election two years early.
The result suggests there will be little change in approach from the Liberals, who racked up record levels of debt and massive budget deficits fighting Covid-19.
Mr Trudeau, who promised tens of billions of dollars in new investments, will once again rely on the support of the smaller left-leaning New Democrats, who want even more social spending.
The night also proved to be a disappointing night for the populist right-wing People's Party of Canada (PPC), which has failed to win a single seat.
The mood was muted at the Liberals' election night party, where a small group of mask-clad supporters appeared more relieved than pleased as they hugged each other when the results came in.
But Liberal supporter Dr Ngakeng Serge, an engineer, struck an upbeat note as he said Mr Trudeau's progressive agenda would "change Canada for the next 10, 20, 30 years".
"We knew that it was going to be a tough campaign during a pandemic, but he knew that you cannot take decisions without the country," he told The Telegraph.
"I'm feeling great," said Sarra Azouz, a 27-year-old healthcare worker. "We are spreading love and even though it's a minority government, I believe in pluralism so we're going to make it together."
Ms Azouz refuted suggestions Mr Trudeau should not have called the election during the pandemic, saying "It was well needed to gather support and to make everyone feel included."
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, whose party placed second, conceded defeat as results trickled in late into the night.
It follows a volatile election campaign that saw strong support for Mr Trudeau's pandemic leadership morph into widespread public frustration at the decision to bring Canadians to the polls in the midst of a fourth wave of Covid-19 cases.
Mr Trudeau's main challenger, Conservative leader Mr O'Toole, surprised pundits to come from behind in the polls to within striking distance of challenging the prime minister.
However Mr Trudeau regained a slight lead in the final stretch of the 36-day campaign by contrasting his willingness to introduce Covid-19 vaccine mandates against Conservative opposition.
Mr O'Toole, 48, has also been hurt by his early praise for Alberta's management of the pandemic with the Conservative-run province now crippled by a fourth Covid-19 wave.
Critics slam 'groundhog day' election
Canadians criticised Mr Trudeau for holding a “groundhog day” election that left Parliament largely where it began while diverting attention away from the country's fourth Covid-19 wave.
The snap election called by the Canadian prime minister last month is estimated to have cost C$610 million, making it the most expensive in the country's history.
If @JustinTrudeau’s speech claims this one or two seat shift in his caucus to be a victory worth a $600 million campaign, my TV screen will have a laptop sticking out of it.
— Don Martin (@DonMartinCTV) September 21, 2021
But with early results suggesting very little movement in Ottawa's balance of power, many Canadians suggested the election had been an unnecessary expense.
Angus Reid, chairman of the Angus Reid Institute public opinion research foundation, tweeted: "Election proved nothing... the prediction of Liberal popular vote win didn’t happen. Nothing happened! Trudeau got less than 1/3 of popular vote. He treats the election as a victory?"
We just spent 610 million on a power grab that has left this country angry and divided. Congratulations @JustinTrudeau that’s on you!
— Alex Pierson (@AlexpiersonAMP) September 21, 2021
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent $610 million of our money on an election which returns a virtually identical Parliament to the one he dissolved on Aug. 15. Literally a Groundhog Day election -- another minority government almost identical to the one he killed. #cdnpoli
— Lorrie Goldstein (@sunlorrie) September 21, 2021
Trudeau's future in question
On the campaign trail, Mr Trudeau fended off questions about his future in the event that he failed to secure a majority.
"I'm not looking to engage in hypothetical questions right now," he said during an event in Windsor, Ontario on Friday.
"My focus is on being there to bring Canada forward with an extraordinary team of Liberals elected across the country."
Political strategists have been less reticent. Speaking after the election was called, Ken Boessenkool, a top strategist for former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, believed it was likely the Liberal leader could choose to stand down in the near future.
"He's going to take a walk in the leaves," he said, referencing his father, the former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's infamous walk in the snow before his resignation.
Mr Boessenkool told The Telegraph it was unlikely that the Liberal leader's party would force him out.
But he added: "I think he's going to look at what's coming and say it's worth stepping down. There will be lots of headaches with a minority government. I don't know if he's got the stomach for that."
Pundits suggest that while Mr Trudeau has gained a third term in office, he may be forced to call another election within 18 months in order to have a strong enough mandate to govern.