By JEFF GRAY
Globe and Mail Update
Canada was headed for a third consecutive Liberal majority Monday night after the governing party made strong gains in Altantic Canada, dominated Ontario and made some surprising gains in Quebec.
The Liberals were leading or elected in 171 ridings across the country, the Canadian Alliance in 65, the Bloc Québécois in 37, the NDP in 13 and the Progressive Conservatives in 11.
A party needs 151 seats in the 301-seat house to form a majority. In Ontario, the Liberals were again dominant, elected or leading in 100 seats. The Canadian Alliance had hoped to make a breakthrough in the province, but seemed poised to end up with just two seats.
The Liberals made strong gains in Atlantic Canada, where they were punished in 1997. The Grits took 19 of the region's 32 seats, up from 11, and the gains came largely at the expense of NDP and Tory seats.
The party also made a surprising showing in Quebec, and although several races were close. At one point, the Liberals were leading or elected in 41 seats.
All of the five major party leaders won their seats, even Joe Clark, who began the campaign trailing in Calgary Centre against Alliance MP Eric Lowther.
The Liberals had banked on renewed strength in Atlantic Canada, where the party needed to gain ground in order to preserve its precarious majority and offset any losses sustained in the West.
Liberal pre-election promises aimed at Atlantic Canada included restoring the cuts to Employment Insurance, and investing $700-million in economic development.
Leading the Atlantic charge was former Newfoundland premier Brian Tobin, who was brought into the federal cabinet just days before the election call as Industry Minister. He won handily in Bonavista-Trinity-Conception, a riding the Liberals only won narrowly last time.
Heavy voter turnout was reported and in Victoria, the CBC reported, polls had to delay the close so voters could cast their ballots.
The Liberals took five of Newfoundland's seven seats, and the Progressive Conservatives won two, leaving the political colours of Newfoundland unchanged.
Early results in Nova Scotia showed the Liberals picking up four seats, three of them at the expense of the NDP, which saw its Atlantic support slide to just four seats.
NDP Leader Alexa McDonough won her seat in Halifax, and Wendy Lill appeared to have defeated former Liberal senator Bernard Boudreau in Dartmouth.
The Tories held on to four seats in Nova Scotia and three in New Brunswick, including Saint John, which popular former mayor Elsie Wayne won easily.
At dissolution, the Liberals has 161 of the 301 seats in the House of Commons, while the Alliance had 58, the Bloc Québécois 44, the NDP had 19 and the Progressive Conservatives had 15. There were four independents.
(Several members have crossed the floor since the 1997 election, changing the parties' seat totals. In the June, 1997, election, the Liberals won 155 seats, the then-Reform Party took 60, while the Tories won 20 and the NDP 21.)
The 2000 campaign, said by many observers to be the nastiest in recent memory, saw the party leaders or their key lieutenants make accusations of racism, hidden agendas and criminal activity.
Mr. Day and Mr. Clark called for investigations into Mr. Chrétien's intervention with the president of a Crown-owned bank on behalf of a friend in his riding seeking a loan.
Responding to opposition requests to look into the affair, the Prime Minister's ethics counsellor, Howard Wilson, said Mr. Chrétien did not break any rules. But the opposition challenged the ethics counsellor's independence, and continued to call for investigations.
Liberal Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan said that some Alliance supporters were "racists" and "Holocaust deniers" and that Mr. Day should be judged by the support he attracts.
Many pundits have said the Alliance and its newly minted leader were caught off guard by the fall election call and ran a sloppy campaign. The party's daily message was often obscured by gaffes and missteps.
In the campaign's first week, for example, Mr. Day wrongly asserted that Lake Erie flowed south, in an attempted brain drain metaphor.
And throughout, various Alliance candidates made controversial off-the-cuff comments about Old Age Security, referendums, health care, immigration and native issues, forcing party brass to scramble and repair the damage.
Some criticized the parties for choosing to sling mud instead of discussing policy. But the health-care system — identified in poll after poll as the voters' No.1 concern — was a factor in the campaign.
The Liberals tried to portray themselves as "the party of medicare," but took flak from all sides for the cuts they made to transfer payments to the provinces for health care in 1995. The party made much of the health-care deal signed with the provinces in September that will inject billions back into the system.
Criticism from the Alliance and the NDP about those cuts may have undermined Liberal strength on this issue.
But the Alliance was also on the defensive over health care for much of the campaign. Mr. Day insisted his party was against a "two-tier" health care system, famously holding up a hand-drawn sign during the English-language leaders' debate.
But the Liberals kept repeating comments made in the media by Alliance MPs that the party would not crack down on provinces that allowed the expansion of private clinics, and that a parallel private system of health care would take pressure of the public system.