Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has won his coveted majority government in elections which changed Canada’s political landscape with the opposition Liberals and Quebec separatists suffering a shattering defeat.
Mr Harper, who took office in 2006, has won two elections but until yesterday’s vote had never held a majority of Parliament’s 308 seats, forcing him to rely on the opposition to pass legislation.
While his hold on Parliament has been tenuous during his five-year term, he has managed to nudge an instinctively centre-left country to the right. He has gradually lowered sales and corporate taxes, avoided climate change legislation, promoted Arctic sovereignty, increased military spending and extended Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan.
Elections Canada reported preliminary results on its website, giving the Conservatives 167 seats, which will give Mr Harper four years of uninterrupted government.
“We are grateful, deeply honoured, in fact humbled by the decisive endorsement of so many Canadians,” Mr Harper told elated supporters at the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary, Alberta.
The leftist New Democratic Party was projected to become the main opposition party for the first time in Canadian history with 102 seats, tripling its support in a stunning setback for the Liberals who have always been either in power or leading the opposition.
“It’s an historic night for New Democrats,” NDP leader Jack Layton told a delirious crowd in Toronto.
Mr Harper was helped by the NDP surge, which split the left-of-centre vote in many districts, handing victory to Conservative candidates, especially in Ontario, where the Liberals were decimated in their last national stronghold.
Former colleagues of Mr Harper say his long-term goals are to shatter the image of the Liberals – the party of former Prime Ministers Jean Chretien, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau – as the natural party of government in Canada, and to redefine what it means to be Canadian.
Mr Harper, who comes from the conservative western province of Alberta, took a major step toward that goal last night as the Liberals suffered their worst defeat in Canadian history – dropping to 34 seats from 77, according to the preliminary results.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff congratulated Mr Harper and New Democrat chief Mr Layton and accepted responsibility for the “historic defeat”.
“Democracy teaches hard lessons, and we have to learn them all,” he told a sombre gathering in Toronto.
Mr Ignatieff, who even lost his own seat in a Toronto suburb, said: “I will play any part that the party wishes me to play as we go forward to rebuild.”