Liberal Leader Paul Martin was handed a minority government in a surprising election outcome Monday that marked the party's fourth-straight mandate but a return to the House of Commons with diminished clout.
The NDP improved its seat totals, giving the Liberals a possible ally in the Commons. The two parties are just one seat shy of a majority.
Few had predicted that the Liberals would win a strong minority Monday evening, but the Liberals won in 135 ridings, the Tories in 99, the Bloc Québécois in 54 and the NDP in 19. All four party leaders won in their ridings.
Canada now has its first minority government since the Joe Clark's Tories held power for six months in 1979. The seat totals were nowhere near the huge victory that Mr. Martin had been predicted to win when he took over as Prime Minister last December. Nor even the small majority his Grits were expected to receive when the writ was dropped five weeks ago.
The electorate decided that Mr. Martin deserved to lead the country, but gave the Liberals the message that they must be less arrogant and power-hungry. The Liberals got 36.7 per cent of the popular support compared with 29.6 per cent for the Conservatives and 15.7 per cent for the NDP.
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- Martin speaks to supporters
- Martin gives speech
- Harper to his supporters
- Layton to his supporters
"Canadians have expected and expect more from us. As a party we must do better and we will," Mr. Martin said in a speech early Tuesday morning.
He said that Canadians had sent a message that they want a Liberal government but they want the party to earn their confidence. "I accept that responsibility," a beaming Mr. Martin told supporters in his home riding of LaSalle - Émard.
Regions: altered landscape
The Liberal victory was largely achieved in seat-rich Ontario, where most voters rejected advances by the Conservatives to gain their support despite weeks where polls, media and politicians themselves spoke of a tight battle for a minority.
The party was elected in 75 of the province's ridings with the Conservatives taking only 24. The NDP won seven. Earlier projections had predicted the Tories could get as many as 47 seats. Still, the Conservatives did better in Ontario than they have in more than a decade.
Mr. Martin and Mr. Harper spent the bulk of their campaigns in Ontario, trying to shore up support by demonizing their opponents.
Most of Atlantic Canada's 32 seats went to the Liberals. In Quebec, the Bloc swept 54 seats in the province while the Liberals avoided a complete wipeout. In the Prairies, the Tories increased their seat totals in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Two Liberals cabinet ministers secured their seats in Alberta, in one case eking out victory in the Tory heartland by only 32 votes.
British Columbia's political makeup changed somewhat, as voters handed the Tories most of the seats, but also elected six NDP candidates. Liberal star candidates managed a fair showing.
During campaigning, Mr. Martin had characterized Mr. Harper as too extreme on Charter issues and tax cuts while Mr. Harper spent his campaign saying the Liberals didn't deserve another term in office after the sponsorship scandal.
In the end, Mr. Martin succeeded in convincing voters that the Liberal Party was a more palatable option than Stephen Harper's Conservatives.
Guy Giorno, chief of staff to former Ontario premier Mike Harris, told globeandmail.com that he thinks the comfort of a familiar party is the primary reason Canadians voted for the Liberals again.
"In the dying days, the Liberals were able to convince the Canadians that the issue wasn't them, it was the other parties," Mr. Giorno said. "They convinced Canadians that the scandal wasn't important...the fear of the unknown was more important the opposition was the issue."
For weeks, pollsters, pundits and even the politicians themselves were talking about a tight battle for a minority government. Mr. Martin ended up in the fight of his political life against Mr. Harper as the Grits dropped sharply in the polls and the Conservatives rose leading to a virtual tie before tonight. Mr. Harper even boldly suggested a majority was in the cards. Many had predicted that voters would bring in a Conservative minority.
But Mr. Harper instead was forced to concede defeat. He did, but sent a warning to the Liberals that the Tories plan to be a watchdog in Ottawa.
"I will accept this mandate. But we will remind the Liberals that we will continue to hold them accountable," he said.
He also looked ahead to the next election, plugging into the fact that minority governments are as a general rule, unstable.
However, Mr. Martin said he recognized that he must work much more effectively with other parties in a minority situation.
"We also recognize that given the make-up of the House of Commons that Canadians expect even more from us. They expect as members of Parliament, as political parties, to work together to make parliament function on their behalf." He pledged to continue fiscal prudence and strengthen social programs.
Mr. Harper said that voters managed to "deprive the Liberals of the majority they thought they were entitled to. ...Until someone, some day, achieves a majority, the fight is not won or not yet lost."
NDP Leader Jack Layton spent the five weeks after the writ was dropped talking about "positive change" for Canada and was ecstatic Monday night.
In a speech soon after the results were known, Mr. Layton indicated he would be wiling to "work together [with other parties] for the benefit of all Canadians." He was especially pleased that his party almost doubled its standings from 2000.
Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe, who was the first leader to make a speech, told his supporters that tonight's result was "very good for Quebec, it's appropriate for Quebec. This is so precious because politics is a difficult struggle," he said. There was some speculation that the Tories, who had been trying to capitalize on voter anger at the Liberal sponsorship scandal, would succeed in winning a minority or even possibly a majority and would work in some sort of agreement with the Bloc.
Green Party hopes of winning as many as two seats were dashed, though they comfortably passed the 2 per cent threshold needed to secure public funding. Their support was highest in British Columbia and lowest in Newfoundland, averaging 4.3 per cent across the country.
In Manitoba, the Tories had seven seats, the Liberals had three and the NDP had four seats. In Saskatchewan, 13 seats went Conservatives and other was won by the Liberals.
Alberta gave the Conservatives 26 seats and the Liberals two.
The Tories dominated in British Columbia as well, taking 22 seats. The Liberals won eight and the NDP five. One independent, former Conservative Chuck Cadman, won his Surry North riding.
As for star candidates, for the NDP, Ed Broadbent is returning to the Commons after winning Ottawa Centre while Olivia Chow has lost her battle in Toronto's Trinity-Spadina.
For the Liberals, former Habs goalie Ken Dryden won his Toronto riding. But cabinet member Stan Keyes lost his seat in Hamilton. In Montreal, Irwin Cotler won.
Several Liberal strongholds were won by Bloc Québécois candidates. The Bloc's Roger Clavet beat Heritage Minister Helene Scherrer in the Liberal stronghold of Louis-Hebert.
Earlier in the night, the Liberals held their ground in Atlantic Canada, taking 22 seats in the region three more than they held in the region at dissolution.
They were trailed by the Conservatives, who took seven seats, one fewer than their eight in 2000, and virtually unchanged in the popular vote.
The New Democratic Party won three seats in the region, down one from their 2000 showing, but gained a higher percentage of the popular vote than in 2000.
Monday night's results were a surprising culmination to a nasty election campaign that saw an early Liberal lead of 39 per cent in the polls drop dramatically and dip below support of the Tories for several weeks during the campaign. By the weekend before the election, the two parties were neck and neck in the polls.
During the campaign, the Liberals attacked the Conservatives on their campaign platform, saying their calls for huge spending increases will result in tax increases or cuts for Canadians, and also attacked the Tories on their position on abortion and same-sex marriage.
The Tories enjoyed a lead over the Liberals for much of the campaign, with Mr. Harper being called as the winner of the election debate. However, he was unable to get away from controversy surrounding whether he would use the notwithstanding clause to overrule Supreme Court decisions and thus harm the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Mr. Duceppe capitalized early on, and successfully, on Quebec anger over the Liberal sponsorship scandal.
Mr. Layton was also able to make gains for his party campaigning on "positive change" and keeping the Canada Health Act intact, increasing their standing from 14 at dissolution to 22 seats.
In the end, Mr. Layton and Mr. Duceppe characterized their party's campaigns as extremely successful, while Mr. Harper said he was somewhat disappointed in the results and Mr. Martin said he recognized that he would have to work to regain voters' trust in the coming months.