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Canadian shake-up: Conservatives win but opposition makes head-turning gains

Monday's national election gave the Conservative Party a big victory but the socialist-rooted New Democratic Party showed surprising strength.

By Anita ElashCorrespondent / May 3, 2011

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives the thumbs up after giving his victory speech in Calgary, Alberta, May 2. Harper won his coveted majority government in elections Monday in Canada.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/AP

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Toronto

Canadians woke up to a strikingly changed political landscape today, largely because of one national politician’s charisma and another’s lack of it.

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National elections yesterday produced Canada’s first majority government in seven years. At the same time, it all but wiped out Canada’s traditional ruling party, the centrist Liberal Party, and propelled the historically marginal socialists to the important role of official opposition. Observers are already talking about the permanent demise of the Liberals, which has governed the country for most of the past century.

“This is a huge defeat. It’s almost as if the Democrats were elected in only three States, and it changes the map of Canadian federal politics,” said political scientist Stephen Clarkson.

Pollsters had predicted a poor showing for the Liberals since the start of the campaign five weeks ago, but no one expected it to do as badly as it did. It lost half its seats and for the first time in history, finished in third place. That gives its leader, former Harvard scholar and internationally reputed journalist Michael Ignatieff, the dubious status of the man who sank the Liberals to new depths. Mr. Ignatieff, who also lost his own seat, resigned as party leader this morning.

The New Democratic Party (NDP), a party with socialist roots, and its cheerful leader Jack Layton secured 103 seats, nearly tripling its strength in Parliament with a historically strong showing in Quebec. The NDP has played the role the role of Canada’s social conscience for decades but has never won more than 44 seats.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party won 167 seats, well past the 155 he needed to win a majority. After overseeing a series of weak coalition governments, Mr. Harper now has a strong mandate to push the traditionally centrist Canadian political agenda further to the right. He has promised to spend billions of dollars to build new jails and get tough on crime, and has been a strong defender of the environmentally unfriendly Alberta oil sands project.

The Liberal Party's fall

Observers are still unsure how the NDP party will use its new status in Parliament or what lies ahead for the Liberals, but they agree that the surprising election results largely came down to personality.

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