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Canadians elect Conservative govt

The victory of Stephen Harper's right-wing Conservative Party ends a 12-yr reign by the scandal-tainted Liberals.

india Updated: Jan 24, 2006 12:44 IST
Michel Comte (AFP)
Michel Comte (AFP)

Stephen Harper and his right-wing Conservative Party surged to victory in Canada's election on Monday.

The Conservatives will form a minority government after ending a 12-year reign by the scandal-tainted Liberals.

Harper, 46, a renowned economist, ousted Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin but will have to trawl for support in the 308 seat House of Commons from the leftist New Democrats and Quebec separatists after falling short of a majority.

"Canadians were looking for change," Conservative Deputy Leader Peter MacKay told CTV television.

Canadians were in the mood to punish the Liberals for a string of ethical lapses, but a period of political uncertainty will likely drag on in the absence of a strong Conservative mandate.

Harper has promised to clean up government in Ottawa, lower taxes and strengthen the military.

He has also signalled a willingness to review the Canadian decision not to join the US anti-missile shield.

Liberals had however charged he would renege on Canada's commitments under the Kyoto climate accord, and would lean closer to the US Republican Party than most Canadians would like, charging a Harper victory would put a "smile" on George W Bush's face.

By 04:30 GMT, the Conservatives had won or were ahead in 125 seats, the Liberals were up in 102 seats, the separatist Bloc Quebecois were to the fore in 50 seats and the New Democratic Party led or was elected in 31.

The Liberals, thwarted in their bid for a fifth straight election win, were left to rake through the ashes of their losing campaign, after ceding ground to the Conservatives in their heartland in Ontario, Atlantic Canada, and in Quebec.

"This has been a difficult and challenging day at the end of a long and challenging campaign," said Ralph Goodale, the outgoing Liberal Party finance minister.

The election, the second within 18 months, was called after the Liberal minority government fell in a vote of no confidence in parliament in November.

Martin, 67, had warned Canadians that Harper's Conservatives could form the most conservative administration in Canadian history.

But Harper smoothed over a prickly image and tracked to the centre during the campaign.

In the last parliament, formed after elections in June 2004, the Liberals had held 133 seats, the Conservatives 98, the Bloc 53 and the New Democrats 18. There were four independents and two vacant seats.

Voting for 23 million eligible Canadians, in the first winter time election for 27 years, took place across 15 hours and six time zones from the Atlantic to Pacific coasts.

Martin, a millionaire ex-shipping tycoon, had desperately hoped voters would undergo a polling booth conversion and balk at entrusting the Conservatives with power.

While Canadians flirted with the Conservatives, pundits noted that the prosperous Group of Eight country with a roaring economy had not ditched its largely liberal values.

Rather, voters seemed more angry with the Liberals over a patronage scandal than embracing Harper.

Since Martin took over in 2003, the Liberals have become a shadow of the political machine which bulldozed to four straight election victories, three under retired ex-prime minister Jean Chretien.

First Published: Jan 24, 2006 11:17 IST