Canadian voters have delivered Conservative Leader Stephen Harper his first majority government after five years of governing in a minority situation, with the 41st election bringing a dramatic and unpredicted realignment to the country’s political landscape.
Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jack Layton will now become Official Opposition leader and replace Michael Ignatieff, who himself was defeated in his own Toronto riding. Ignatieff took reponsibility for the Liberals’ historic electoral loss. Ignatieff’s Liberals — often touted as Canada’s “natural governing party” — placed a distant third behind Layton’s party.
With 90 percent of the votes counted, the Conservatives were elected or leading in 166 seats, followed by the NDP with 104, Liberals with 34 and the Bloc Québécois with three and the Green party with one. A party needs to capture 155 seats to win a majority in the House of Commons.
The NDP, who appeared to have nearly tripled their seat count, made a major breakthrough in Quebec, mostly at the expense of the Bloc. The projected loss of 45 Bloc seats in the province prompted party leader Gilles Duceppe to announce he would resign in days.
Following his victory, Layton bounded up the stairs to address a near ecstatic crowd in Toronto, brandishing the trademark cane given to him by a supporter on the campaign tour to help him with his recovery from hip surgery.
“And let me tell you this: Spring is here, my friends, and a new chapter begins,” Layton told supporters.
The New Democrat leader said Canadians voted Monday to strengthen public health care, retirement security and help families make ends meet.
“And you voted to end the same old debates and political games,” he told the crowd.
But he also vowed his party would oppose the Conservative government “with vigour if it is on the wrong path.”
Ignatieff, who declined to say whether he would step down as party leader, said he still sees an “ongoing need for a party at the centre of Canadian life.”
“I will serve as long as the party wants me to serve and asks me to serve, and not a day longer,” he told supporters.
In his concession speech, the Liberal leader offered “open-hearted” congratulations to Harper and Layton — “two opponents who have had the better of the night” — and accepted responsibility for the result.
“Democracy teaches hard lessons and we have to learn them all,” Ignatieff told supporters.
It emerged shortly afterward that Ignatieff was beaten in his Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, while several prominent Toronto Liberals lost or were behind NDP or Tory candidates as of midnight ET.
Duceppe, who himself lost to NDP candidate Hélène Laverdière in the riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, told supporters after his loss it was clear Quebeckers wanted to give a federalist party another chance and now expected recognition of the Quebec nation.
“I am leaving, but others will follow until Quebec becomes a country,” he said, as the crowd of supporters chanted his name.
Meanwhile, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May earned her party’s first elected seat in Canadian political history, defeating former Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn in the British Columbia riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands.
“Today we proved that Canadians want change in politics,” she told a crowd of jubilant supporters in her riding.
Results in Quebec showed the Bloc Québécois plummeting from 47 of 75 seats in the province to only two. The NDP, who previously had only Thomas Mulcair’s Outremont seat in Montreal, were leading or elected in 59 seats in the province.
Some of the province’s highest-profile Conservative politicians lost their seats. Despite overall Tory gains, Lawrence Cannon and Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who served as ministers in Harper’s cabinet, were defeated in their Quebec ridings.
In Ontario, Conservative Chris Alexander defeated Liberal incumbent Mark Holland in the coveted Greater Toronto Area riding of Ajax-Pickering. The Tories are also holding their existing seats and leading in some key Liberal-held ridings such as Brampton West and Brampton-Springdale.
In Toronto, three high-profile Liberal candidates lost their Toronto-area seats, with Ken Dryden falling in York Centre, Gerard Kennedy losing in Parkdale-High Park and Joe Volpe defeated in Eglinton-Lawrence.
Outside of the city core, Liberal Ruby Dhalla lost her seat in Brampton-Springdale to Conservative Parm Gill while Conservative Julian Fantio was re-elected in Vaughan, defeating Liberal Mario Ferri.
The NDP was also holding its existing seats in the city, with Olivia Chow, Layton’s wife, winning again in Trinity-Spadina.
The Conservatives and NDP began the night making gains in Atlantic Canada at the expense of the Liberals, who have won the most seats in the region in every federal election since 1997. The Conservatives had 38 per cent of the vote, compared to 30 per cent for the NDP and 29 for the Liberals.
In Labrador, the Conservatives won what was once considered a safe Liberal seat, with Peter Penashue defeating Liberal incumbent Todd Russell. The Tories had been shutout of the province following an “Anything but Conservative” campaign mounted in 2008 by former premier Danny Williams.
Meanwhile, in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, NDP candidate Ryan Cleary defeated Liberal incumbent Siobhan Coady.
The results come as many analysts were caught off guard during the campaign after polls suggested a surge of support for the NDP, specifically in Quebec, following the leaders’ debate in French.
Layton took advantage of this apparent spike, saying that voters were tired of both the Conservatives and Liberals and that the “winds of change” were in the political air.
The polls also forced Harper and Ignatieff to alter their strategy and focus more on the NDP leader.
Harper returned again and again to one main theme, repeatedly stressing the need for a Conservative majority. He warned that Canada’s economic stability was at risk if the opposition parties had enough seats following the election to form a coalition or some other power sharing arrangement.
Although Harper had initially targeted a possible Ignatieff-led government, propped up by other parties, his focus in the later days of the campaign switched to the possibility of Layton in power.
For his part, Ignatieff slammed Harper over his handling of the economy and accused the Conservative leader of disrespecting the institution of Parliament.
He ran ads questioning if Harper could be trusted with “absolute power” and reminded voters that Harper shut down Parliament twice and had been held in contempt of Parliament.
Ignatieff had said he would like to stay on as leader regardless of the outcome of the federal election.
Let us be the generation that takes back our country, that holds our government accountable, and that shows the rest of our great nation just how important Canadians are to one another.
We can no longer afford to sit back and let our government work itself out. In order to have a powerful democracy and to maintain our status as one of the best places to live in the world, we must become involved in our democracy. The democratic system is only as powerful as the citizens who participate in it—do not make the mistake of thinking you have power as a citizen without doing that fundamental thing that demonstrates that power: voting.
Tomorrow, stand on guard for your country. Don’t continue to let other people make your decisions for you. Vote for whichever party you like or go and scratch your vote in protest, but make sure that your voice is counted.
If you live in Canada and want to end Stephen Harpers ability to form a government in any form, click the link below for your riding and get involved to make sure the Conservatives don’t win another election.
Canadians don’t have an electoral system that directly reflects the ballot box. With our ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system, vote splitting means Canadians could end up with a majority Harper Government with as little as 35 percent of the popular vote. This is not the outcome most Canadians want, and avoiding it requires voter knowledge and cooperation.
In the last election voteforenvironment.ca was the go-to site for nearly half a million unique visitors who clicked in time and again to determine how they could mark their ballot to get an acceptable electoral outcome. If you were one of those 440,000 – congratulations, it worked! On the last day that public opinion polls were available, the VFE website model showed that the Conservatives were on track to win 152 seats, but on Monday, they were elected in 143. Our analysis shows thousands of visits to our advice regarding the candidate with the best chance to beat the Conservative in key ridings. (link here for 2008 analysis)
ProjectDemocracy.ca builds on voteforenvironment.ca. The stakes for our environment were very high in 2008, and remain at risk. Since then it has become even clearer that Harper is prepared to ignore the basic tenets of our democracy to keep in power and pursue his ideological agenda. For all those who care deeply about our democracy, stopping the Harper machine is job one.
Please check your riding, sign-up and spread the word (especially to people you may know in key ridings).