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Conservatives win minority; Martin to step down as leader

Globe and Mail Update

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was headed to Parliament Hill as Canada's next prime minister after capturing a fragile minority victory in Monday's election, picking up votes in Quebec and making inroads in Ontario but failing to scale the heights early polls had predicted.

"Tonight, friends, Canadians have voted for change," Mr. Harper said, speaking to supporters in Calgary.

"And Canadians have asked our party to take the lead in delivering that change. I tell Canadians we will respect your trust and we will stick to our words."

Mr. Harper's comments capped a night in which the Liberal's 12-year reign came to an end in a vote that handed the Conservatives a minority mandate but also held that power in check with a solid endorsement of opposition parties as well.

Shortly after midnight, Liberal Leader Paul Martin conceded defeat, telling supporters he had called his opponent to offer his congratulations and said he wouldn't lead the party in the next election.

"I will continue to represent with pride the people of LaSalle-Émard but I will not take our party in to another election as leader," he said.

"In the coming days, I will consult with the party leadership as to how best to ensure an orderly transition and an effective leadership in the House of Commons and the party."

By late in the night, the Conservatives had won 124 seats, to the Liberals' 103. The Bloc Québécois were elected in 51 ridings and the NDP in 29.

The Conservatives' gains came on the back of a swell in support in central Canada for the party, but the Liberals still managed to cling to seats in some key regions — helping limit the Tories' overall advance.

By the end of the night, the Conservatives had managed roughly 36 per cent of the popular vote nationally compared with 30 per cent for the Liberals, 17 per cent points for the NDP and 10 per cent for the Bloc Québécois.

In Quebec, the Conservatives increased their share of the popular vote more than 17 percentage points, managing to win the parties first federal seat in that province in five years.

The Liberals' popular vote was down 14 percentage points. The shift also saw the Bloc's share of the popular vote slip 7 percentage points.

Similarly, in Ontario the Liberals' chunk of the popular vote was down 5 percentage points. In that province, the Liberals were elected in 55 seats — down from 74 in the last sitting — compared with the Conservatives' 39.

Mr. Harper — who was re-elected in the Alberta riding of Calgary Southwest — becomes this country's 22nd Prime Minister.

Speaking to supporters in Montreal, Mr. Martin thanked his supporters, not just for their help in the current campaign but for those in years past. He also paid tribute to his colleagues in his cabinet and caucus, praising their efforts and their role in creating a stronger nation.

"For many of our colleagues, it was not easy this evening," Mr. Martin said.

"But there will be another time."

With the likelihood of a minority looming, attention quickly turned to where the balance of power would lie.

The NDP, which ended the last sitting with 18 seats in the House of Commons, saw its fortunes rise dramatically, putting it in the position of king-maker in what could prove to be a fractious parliament. The party improved on its share of popular vote and managed double digit gains in terms of its seat count -- to 29 from 18.

Throughout much of the latter part of the 56-day campaign, polls had suggested the likelihood of a Conservative government, ending the Liberals' 12-year reign. At one point it even looked possible that Mr. Harper's Tories might even muster a majority, although polls closer to Monday night's vote suggested that was unlikely.

Mr. Martin was re-elected in the Quebec riding of LaSalle-Émard. The NDP's Jack Layton and the Bloc's Gilles Duceppe also retained their seats.

"Our Canada puts ordinary Canadians first and tonight ordinary Canadians in the millions put their trust in the NDP and took a step forward," Mr. Layton told an audience in Toronto.

"We won't let you down."

Mr. Duceppe, meanwhile, promised Quebeckers a "responsible" opposition in the next Parliament.

"We will make sure Quebec moves forward because we know everything that makes Quebec move forward moves us forward toward sovereignty," he said.

In Monday's victory speech, Mr. Harper reiterated a host of campaign promises, vowing reforms to the justice system, an act to ensure federal accountability and a cut to income tax by trimming the goods and services tax.

"Perhaps more importantly, we will begin the task of rebuilding federalism in the province of Quebec," he said.

Initially, results from the East Coast had suggested few surprises. In that region, the vote broke down along familiar lines with incumbents managing to hold on in most ridings even as the Conservatives managed to pick up more of the popular vote in that region.

One exception was former Natural Resource Minister John Efford's Newfoundland and Labrador riding of Avalon, where Conservative Fabian Manning claimed victory. Mr. Efford didn't seek re-election because of health reasons.

Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, high-profile Conservative incumbents including Loyola Hearn, Norman Doyle and deputy leader Peter MacKay were also headed back to Ottawa at the end of election night.

The Tories had been hoping for a major breakthrough, particularly in the Liberal stronghold of Prince Edward Island. But, that didn't happen.

In PEI, the Liberal Party's Wayne Easter, Lawrence MacAulay, Shawn Murphy and Joe McGuire were elected in all four of that province's ridings.

Still, the Liberal popular vote in Atlantic Canada took a hit, falling more than 4 percentage points to about 40 per cent, while the Conservatives saw the chunk of the popular vote climb about 5 percentage points to 35 per cent.

In Alberta — the Conservatives' stronghold — it was a Tory blue sweep, as the party was elected in every seat. The Liberals' lone Alberta candidate Anne McLellan, who had served as deputy prime minister in Mr. Martin's cabinet lost to Conservative Laurie Hawn in Edmonton-Centre.

Several other Liberal cabinet ministers were also defeated.

Pierre Pettigrew, the Liberal government's foreign affairs minister, lost in the Quebec riding of Papineau. As well, in the Ontario riding of Hamilton-Stoney Creek, Liberal House Leader Tony Valeri fell to the NDP's Wayne Marston.

Star Liberal candidate and former astronaut Marc Garneau was defeated in the Quebec riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges to the Bloc's Meli Faille.

"I essentially had to quit my job at the Canadian Space Agency," he told CBC.

"To put it bluntly, I'm unemployed right now and will be looking for a job obviously because I still have a young family."

But Ralph Goodale, the Liberal finance minister, and Belinda Stronach, a former Conservative who crossed the floor in the last sitting, managed to hold their respective seats.

Notable Conservative Monte Solberg secured the riding of Medicine Hat, while other high-profile Tory MPs Chuck Strahl and Stockwell Day were also headed for another term in Ottawa.

For the NDP, Olivia Chow took the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina after a series of failed attempts. Her victory means she will join her spouse, Mr. Layton, in Ottawa. Together they become only the second husband-and-wife team to serve in Parliament.

"Even though I'm very, very happy that we will be working together again, this election was about you," Ms. Chow told supporters.

"This election was about you, the people who live here, about all the people in Trinity-Spadina. The victory is yours."

In British Columbia — where polls had suggested a three-way battle — the Conservatives were elected in 17 of 36 seats, down from 22 in 2004. The NDP were next with 10 and the Liberals followed at nine.

A Conservative win signals a dramatic shift in Canada's political landscape, although the split in the overall vote raises questions the amount of power the Conservatives will wield in the House of Commons.

During the lengthy winter campaign, Mr. Harper focused on issues like tax cuts, crime and cleaning up government. He also vowed to resurrect the gay marriage issue and pull out of the Kyoto Accord on climate change, but also said he wouldn't look to change abortion laws.

Some suggested a win by Mr. Harper's Tories would go a long way toward addressing Western alienation in this country, by helping bring Alberta back into the fold. Similarly, the Conservatives' expected gains in Quebec were seen as a boon to the federalist cause in that province.

The Liberals, meanwhile, fought back throughout the campaign, warning that Mr. Harper's Conservatives — with their roots in the Reform and Alliance parties — represent an extreme far to the right of most Canadians.

They repeatedly cautioned that a Conservative government would sacrifice Charter rights and limit access to abortion.

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