Justin Trudeau thanked his supporters for ensuring “brighter days ahead” on Tuesday as he clung onto power in Canada’s snap election.
In a victory speech in Montreal in the early hours, Mr Trudeau said Canadians had voted to “send Canada through the pandemic” after his main rival conceded defeat.
However, his Liberals fell short of his goal for a majority win.
Mr Trudeau decided to gamble on an early vote and capitalise on his government’s handling of the pandemic, which included massive spending to support individuals and businesses and a push for high vaccination rates.
Instead, the 49-year-old - who has governed with a minority of House of Commons seats since 2019 - will end up where he started after an unexpectedly tight election race characterised by a lacklustre campaign and voter anger at an election during a pandemic.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, whose party placed second, conceded defeat as results trickled in late into the night.
CBC and CTV projected that Mr Trudeau’s Liberal government would hold a minority of seats in the House of Commons, meaning he will need another party’s support to govern.
Elections Canada showed the Liberals leading in 156 electoral districts nationally, one more than they held before the election, including 111 in vote-rich Ontario and Quebec.
“It’s a Groundhog Day election,” said Gerald Baier, a professor of political science at University of British Columbia.
“It seems that ambivalence has stayed (from the 2019 election).”
The House of Commons holds 338 seats and a party needs to win 170 to hold a majority. The Conservatives led in 121 districts.
The Conservatives looked on track to win the popular vote, attracting 34 per cent support to the Liberals’ 32 per cent, but Liberal support is centred around urban areas where there are more seats.
“Our support has grown, it’s grown across the country, but clearly there is more work for us to do to earn the trust of Canadians,” Mr O’Toole told supporters, while suggesting that he planned to stay on as leader.
“My family and I are resolutely committed to continuing this journey for Canada.”
Polls reported results much more slowly than usual, with some stations forced to limit occupancy due to Covid-19 restrictions. Long lines forced some electors to wait hours to vote in southern Ontario, a critical battleground.
Mr Trudeau, a charismatic progressive and son of former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, swept to power in 2015. But the Liberals dropped to a minority in 2019 after Trudeau was damaged in part by disclosures that he had worn blackface years ago.
Amid a fourth wave of Covid-19, Mr Trudeau backed vaccine mandates while Mr O’Toole, 48, opposed them, preferring a combination of voluntary vaccinations and rapid testing to stop the spread of the virus.
Mr Trudeau had said he needed a new mandate to ensure Canadians approve of his plan for getting the country past the coronavirus pandemic.