Canada's Conservatives secure crucial majority

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his ruling Conservatives swept to victory in Monday's federal election, winning a majority in Parliament. Harper is now the third-longest-serving Conservative prime minister since the Second World War.


AFP - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper won re-election Monday at the head of a majority government, the first for his Conservative Party since 1988, television projections showed.

In a ground-breaking election full of firsts, the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) was on course to surge past the Liberals, which governed for most of the last century, and become Canada's official opposition.

Capping a disastrous night for the separatist Bloc Quebecois, their leader Gilles Duceppe was ousted two decades after he was first elected to parliament and the party was set to be reduced to just two seats, from 47.

According to projections, the Conservatives would win 166 of 308 seats up for grabs, while the NDP, led by the popular Jack Layton, would triple its seats to more than 100.

"Canadians can now turn the page on the uncertainties and repeat elections of the past seven years and focus on building a great future for all of us," Harper said.

"All the lessons of the past few years, holding to our principles but also of listening, of caring, of adapting those lessons that have come with a minority government, we must continue to practice as a majority government."

"Canadians have chosen hope, a united Canada, a strong Canada, and we will govern for every Canadian, including those who didn't vote for us."

The Liberals, which took a hammering under the flagging leadership of Harvard academic and human rights champion Michael Ignatieff, were set to be reduced to a paltry 33 seats.

Since entering Canadian politics in 2006 after three decades abroad, Ignatieff struggled to connect with voters. He said Monday he would stay on "to rebuild and renew" the Liberal Party.

"This party is bigger than any of us," he said. "It began before we were born. It will continue long after the events tonight are forgotten."

His former college roommate and re-elected Liberal MP Bob Rae, meanwhile, commented that the demise of the Bloc "is progress."

"It's a change that is really important and fundamental for the future of our country," he told public broadcaster CBC.

Throughout the campaign, opinion polls showed the Tories in the lead but shy of the 40 percent mark that typically translates into a parliamentary majority.

They meanwhile faced a strong challenge in the final leg of the 36-day campaign from Layton's NDP.

Harper campaigned on the economy, while warning that if he failed to win a majority, the NDP and Liberals could end up forming a coalition, with Layton becoming prime minister in a radical reshaping of Canadian politics.

The prime minister said such a scenario would lead to major new social spending that could derail Canada's fragile recovery.

But Layton, who is battling prostate cancer and walks with a cane because of a broken hip, won admiration from cheering crowds for his tenacity and smiling demeanor during the campaign.

The NDP campaigned to raise the corporate tax rate, eliminate the $2 billion in oil sands subsidies, implement a cap-and trade system to control pollution and increase spending on health and education.

In contrast, Harper has gradually cut corporate taxes, backed the powerful oil industry and shied away from implementing climate-change legislation.

His critics have accused him of subverting parliamentary democracy by withholding information in a budget bill.

Two televised debates in mid-April unleashed a staggering rise in support for the NDP -- first in Quebec, which returned mostly federalist MPs to Ottawa for the first time in 20 years -- and then nationwide.

The Tories and Liberals had trained their attacks on the untested NDP, with Harper saying Layton's "folksy talk" masked a "sobering reality of crushing taxes, out-of-control deficits, and massive job losses."

Several commentators said after the results came in that the Liberals risk "evaporating" while Harper must now govern from the center if he wants to realize his dream of ushering in a Conservative era in Canadian politics.

The NDP said it would act responsibly in opposition after Canada's fourth election in seven years.

"We will oppose the government when it's off track and we'll support it when it helps Canada to make progress," Layton said, adding: "A new chapter begins!"

The mustachioed social democrat with a broad smile, had already overseen steady gains in NDP support in each of the last three elections -- 2004, 2006 and 2008 -- but vote-splitting with the Liberals limited gains in seats.

In yet another historic first, Green Party leader Elizabeth May became the first Green to be elected to parliament, according to projections, defeating a Conservative cabinet minister on Vancouver Island.

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