By RICHARD BLOOM
Globe and Mail Update
Members of the Progressive Conservative Party are breathing a deep sigh of relief after the party came within a hair of losing its official party status.
The nightmare scenario of falling short of the required 12 seats in the House was close to coming true as the Tories closely watched a key race in Quebec's Richmond-Arthabaska riding, where PC André Bachand beat Bloc Québécois candidate André Bellavance by a very slim margin.
The Tories snared 12 seats in the House, garnering about 12 per cent of the popular vote. The result means the Tories will have three fewer seats than the 15 they had when Parliament was dissolved. They also lost ground in the popular vote, which was about six percentage points lower than the 19 per cent the party received in 1997.
Retaining official party status means the party will continue to receive research money and be guaranteed questions during the daily Question Period.
The party's leader, Joe Clark, defeated Canadian Alliance member Eric Lowther in Calgary Centre, in a closely watched race that Mr. Clark was not expected to win earlier in the campaign.
"You and I together, we did the impossible in Calgary-Centre," an ecstatic Mr. Clark told his victory party. "There is a lesson here for this whole extraordinary country because when we choose to as Canadians, we can do the impossible in any field we chose.
"We have demonstrated to everyone that it is possible for a national party to pick up new seats in Western Canada, it is possible for a national party to represent all the citizens of this country."
There hasn't been an Alberta Tory sitting in the federal House since 1993, and organizers had hoped their leader would make the breakthrough.
Mr. Clark, who was first elected as an MP in 1972, became the country's youngest-ever prime minister in 1979 at the age of 39. He lost the job when he was defeated by the Liberals nine months later. After serving in Brian Mulroney's cabinet, he returned to lead the Tories two years ago.
"The leader may have won his seat but the team lost," said political scientist David Taras, who teaches at the University of Calgary.
"It has a big rump in the Maritimes and there's Joe Clark who wins based on his character. ... This is not a night of victory," Mr. Taras said.
In the West, the PC Party won just two ridings: Mr. Clark's, and Brandon-Souris in Manitoba, where former Brandon mayor Rick Borotsik took a seat.
The Tories dropped to nine seats from 13 in the four Atlantic provinces, despite getting 30 per cent of the popular vote there.
It was a blow to Mr. Clark, who had predicted his party would take 20 to 25 seats in the region — up from 13 in 1997.
Among the Tories elected were Scott Brison, the former Nova Scotia MP who gave up his Kings-Hants seat so Mr. Clark could run in a by-election, and high-profile candidate Elsie Wayne in Saint John. Ms. Wayne was the party's interim leader before Mr. Clark was elected last year.
Angela Vautour, a former NDP MP who jumped to the Tories, was defeated in New Brunswick's Beausejour-Petitcodiac riding by Liberal Dominic LeBlanc, the son of former governor-general Romeo LeBlanc.
In Ontario, the PCs weren't able to win a single riding.
In 1993, the rogressive Conservative Party lost its official party status when the party was left with just two seats after losing its majority government.
"The Conservative Party has shown that we are an essential force in Canadian politics," Mr. Clark said Monday night. "Now, we must work together to try and improve the quality of our health-care system in Canada, to become more competitive in the global economy and build on our shared values.
"There is still far too great a temptation to play the politics of polarization, whether it is East against West, rich against poor, or English against French. While politics can not exist without partisanship, we must all remember that partisan interests should not take precedence over the national interest in Canada," the Tory Leader said.
He went on to thank his former riding of Kings-Hants, which he was elected to only a few months ago. He also complimented the other party leaders on their campaigns.