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Trudeau wins big as Canada votes resoundingly for a leftward shift (+video)

Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party swept Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper from office in a major upset in Monday's vote.

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    Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau gives his victory speech after Canada's federal election in Montreal, Quebec, Monday night.
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For many residents of Canada’s largest city, it was hard to know where to begin celebrating on Monday night.

First came the Toronto Blue Jays’ 11-8 victory over the Kansas City Royals in a must-win Major League Baseball playoff game.

Then came news of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s defeat in the federal election at the hands of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party.

Mr. Trudeau, a charismatic politician who captivated many voters here with his youth and optimism – not to mention his boxing skills – is set to be Canada's new prime minister after his party won a majority of Parliament's 338 seats in a sweeping, come-from-behind victory.

For many here, the election was foremost a referendum on Mr. Harper and his Conservative Party’s near-decade in power. His secretive and often partisan political style grated with many voters. And in pushing Canada to the right, Mr. Harper supported policies that many viewed as out of sync with the nation, including his refusal to pursue climate change legislation and his push to shrink government and trim spending.

Now, many Canadians are eager to see Trudeau return the country to its left-of-center traditions.

“In this election, the question was how badly did Canadians want to defeat Stephen Harper,” says Zain Velji, a Calgary-based political strategist and host of “The Strategists,” a popular political podcast.  “The answer was, ‘desperately.’ ”

Voters in Toronto flocked to polling stations in Blue Jays baseball caps and jerseys to cast their votes ahead of the game on Monday. Although ballot boxes stayed open until 9:30 p.m., election officials expected turnout to fall to a trickle after the 8:07 first pitch.

It was unclear if the occasional car horns that could be heard later in the night were in celebration of the game, Harper’s defeat, or both.

Having re-energized the Liberal Party since its devastating electoral losses four years ago, Mr. Trudeau rode a wave of anti-conservatism that galvanized voters around his promise of change and helped his party win a resounding 184 seats, or 56 percent.

Trudeau has pledged to raise taxes on the rich and run deficits for three years to increase government spending and boost the economy. He’s promised a more multilateral approach in international affairs – cooperating more, for example, with the UN. He's vowed to repair ties with the United States, which were dogged by Harper's weak personal relationship with President Barack Obama and differences over the Keystone pipeline. Addressing climate change – an area where he shares common cause with Mr. Obama – is high on his agenda.

“Right away, I expect we’ll see a brand new posture from the federal government when Trudeau takes office,” says Christopher Cochrane, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. “It looks like the Liberals are going to have a solid four years to implement their plans.”

Trudeau, a 43-year-old former school teacher and member of Parliament since 2008, will be the second youngest prime minister in Canadian history. He carries with him the immense legacy of his father, the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who took office in 1968 and led Canada for most of the next 16 years. Trudeau has also cited his maternal grandfather, Jimmy Sinclair, who represented a constituency in Vancouver from 1940-58, as an inspiration and role model.

But concerns over his lack of political experience – a common theme in Conservative attack ads during the campaign – are likely to follow the young leader into office.

While critics say Trudeau lacks the political intelligence of his father, many Canadians say they are simply happy to have anyone but Harper as their leader. Harper’s attempt to shift the nation to the right alienated a wide swath of voters, who came to view his policies – such as lowering corporate taxes and taking a more hawkish stance on global affairs – as out antithetical to the Canada they knew.

The election marked a stunning turnaround for the Liberals, who held only 36 seats when Parliament was dissolved in early August. Their victory amounts to the largest seat increase for a party between elections in Canadian history, according to the Globe and Mail.

The Liberals dealt a major blow not only to the Conservatives but also to the New Democratic Party, the furthest left of the big three parties. At the beginning of the 78-day campaign, the longest in Canada since the 19th century, the NDP was considered a frontrunner.

Election results show that Conservatives were reduced to 99 seats. The NDP, which had previously formed the official opposition as the second largest party in Parliament, held onto only 44 seats after suffering major losses to the Liberals in Quebec.

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