Canadians Use ‘Unnecessary’ Election to Overturn Opposition

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper campaigned for the majority government he won yesterday saying the opposition was foisting an “unnecessary” election on the public. Voters responded by sending the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois to their worst-ever results and vaulting the New Democratic Party to their best.

Michael Ignatieff of the Liberals said he was willing to stay on as leader as he lost his own seat and saw his party drop to 35 seats from 77. Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois also lost his own seat according to preliminary results and said he would quit as leader. The party, which seeks to separate the French-speaking province from Canada, was reduced to four seats from 49 in the last election.

“As always, the voters had the last word; they expressed a profound desire for change,” said Duceppe, 63, referring to the rise of the NDP.

The biggest winner besides Harper, who won his first majority government, was Jack Layton of the NDP, who won a record 102 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons.

“It’s a major change,” said Kathy Brock, a political scientist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “It makes you wonder if we are moving more towards a two-party system with more polarization,” because “with a split like this, the left-center is always going to be out of office.”

Ignatieff may face a test of the Liberal’s willingness to keep him as leader at a biennial convention scheduled for June. “I am willing to serve to help us do that work of renewal, reform and growth,” Ignatieff, 63, said last night.

Lowest Ever

The 19 percent of the vote and 34 seats won by the Liberals were their lowest total since Canada was founded in 1867.

Layton’s support jumped in the French-speaking province of Quebec, then much of the rest of the rest of Canada, after national televised leaders’ debates. Layton damaged Ignatieff by saying he had one of worst attendance records for parliamentary votes, appealed to young voters by making a reference to Twitter, and curbed the lure of the Bloc Quebecois by saying he would expand a French-language workplace law.

Most of the NDP gains in this election came in Quebec, where their seat tally rose to 58 from the one Thomas Mulcair took in 2008. The Bloc struggled to show that it remained the best defender of Quebec’s interests after years of sending members to Ottawa.

Stepped Up Attacks

Other leaders stepped up their attacks on the NDP as their support rose to eclipse the Liberals and rivaled that of the Conservatives. The NDP argued during the campaign that the other parties ignored basic voter concerns such as the cost of home heating and help for the unemployed.

“We are going to oppose the government with vigor if it’s on the wrong path and we will support it when it helps Canada to make progress,” Layton, 60, said in Toronto last night. “We’re going focus on economic growth and fiscal responsibility, we are going to focus on lifting Canadians out of poverty, we are going to focus on tackling the crisis of climate change.”

Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, was another surprise, becoming the party’s first elected Member of Parliament. She was elected in the district of Saanich-Gulf Islands in British Columbia, defeating the Conservative incumbent Gary Lunn who had represented the area since 1997.

Harper campaigned against all opposition parties by saying the choice was between a Conservative majority and an opposition coalition. He also said that the economic recovery would be damaged by their plans to reverse corporate tax cuts that underpin job creation, attacks Harper toned down in his victory speech.

“We are and we must be the government of all Canadians including those who didn’t vote for us,” Harper, 52, said at a speech given after 1 a.m. this morning in Calgary.

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