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Harper romps to Conservative majority

OTTAWA - Canada has a dramatically new political landscape after voters redrew both the electoral map and the nation's trajectory with a convincing Conservative majority.

OTTAWA - Canada has a dramatically new political landscape after voters redrew both the electoral map and the nation's trajectory with a convincing Conservative majority.

Installing Harper and his flinty brand of conservatism in office with unfettered power for four years may not even be the most historically significant headline of the 41st general election.

The Liberal party that governed the country for much of the past century was handed a resounding defeat, finishing a distant third behind Jack Layton's bounding New Democrats.

The separatist Bloc Quebecois — winner of at least half Quebec's 75 seats in every election since 1993 — was reduced to a tiny, four-member regional rump. Leader Gilles Duceppe lost his own seat and immediately resigned.

And the Green party finally managed to muscle its way into the House of Commons through the front door as leader Elizabeth May defeated Tory cabinet minister Gary Lunn in British Columbia.

The Conservatives took 40 per cent of the vote, compared to 31 per cent for the NDP and a dismal 19 per cent for the Liberals.

"We are grateful, deeply honoured — in fact humbled — by the decisive endorsement of so many Canadians," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a roaring partisan crowd Monday night in Calgary as tears rolled down his wife Laureen's face.

"For our part we are intensely aware that we are, and we must be, the government of all Canadians, including those who did not vote for us."

The Conservatives have presided over some of the most acrimonious parliamentary sittings in modern Canadian history, yet Harper said he's learned valuable lessons.

"Holding to our principles but also of listening, of caring, of adapting those lessons that have come with a minority government — we must continue to practice as a majority government."

Whether or not Harper can change his stripes, the 308-seat Commons will have a very different look than it did on March 25 when his Conservative minority was defeated on an historic contempt-of-Parliament vote.

The Conservatives will return with 166 seats, a 24-seat improvement and more than enough to drive the national agenda with impunity until October 2015 when the country next goes to the polls under Harper's fixed election date law.

The NDP almost tripled its seat count, rising to 103 MPs — including three dozen mostly unknowns from Quebec, a province where the party won its very first MP just over two years ago.

The NDP haul in Quebec includes a Cree leader, a well-known former Liberal MP, a former diplomat and the leader of one of Canada's biggest unions.

"It's an historic night for New Democrats," Layton told a delirious crowd in downtown Toronto, adding the victory didn't occur over the 35-day campaign alone.

"It's been 50 years in the making," he said, alluding to the party's birthday.

The Liberals lost more than half their already-reduced caucus — including Leader Michael Ignatieff — to log in at traditional NDP numbers of 34 elected members.

Final results for all ridings won't be in until at least today because some polling stations never called in thier numbers Monday night.

For Harper, who has long plotted the Liberal party's demise, the evening was an historic vindication. He sealed his place in the national ledgers, joining Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, and 1950s-era Tory leader John Diefenbaker as just the third Conservative ever to win three consecutive elections.

Harper did it with a two-note campaign focused on Canada's relative economic success in a global economy battered by deep recession, and with dire warnings of instability under any minority scenario.

Aided by an ascendant NDP that helped split the vote, Harper won his first majority after two successive minority governments that many pundits and pollsters wrongly believed marked a glass ceiling for the former Reform party founder.

And he won despite a growing list of abuses of Canada's democratic institutions — including a historic defeat on a contempt-of-Parliament vote to trigger the election — that Conservatives dismissed as just so much partisan noise.

The New Democrats rode a mid-campaign surge of support to an orange revolution of sorts, becoming Canada's official Opposition for the first time. The lift-off began in Quebec following the televised leaders' debates and spread east and west from there.

"I would like to thank Quebecers for the trust they placed in me and my team," Layton said in French. "We heard your message for change and for hope."

The frantic NDP crowd kept interrupting his address with chants of "NDP! NDP!" and "Jack! Jack! Jack!"

While Layton was exuberant, Ignatieff and Duceppe's humiliations were complete.

Ignatieff, the acclaimed international academic, lost his own Toronto seat — and with it the future leadership of the Liberals.

"Democracy teaches hard lessons, and we have to learn them all," Ignatieff told a sombre gathering in Toronto. He offered to hold on as leader until the party decides his future.

Duceppe, the face of the Bloc for a generation, said he would quit as leader after going down to personal defeat in another historic redrawing of Canada's electoral map.

"As always, voters have the last word and they expressed a deep desire for change," said Duceppe, who took full responsibility for the loss.

Bob Rae, the former NDP premier of Ontario and a federal Liberal leadership contender, hinted strongly that the time has come to debate a potential merger between Liberals and New Democrats.

What most public opinion polls had suggested would be a nail-biter of an election was over by the time it hit Ontario's western border. The Conservatives appeared claimed about 40 per cent of the popular vote — a big jump for a party that consistently polled in the mid-30s during five years of minority government.

The rise in NDP fortunes contributed to vote splits favouring the Tories, especially in Ontario where the Liberals were decimated in their last national stronghold.

The Conservative run started in Atlantic Canada, where the Tories overtook the Liberals in the popular vote and added three of the 12 additional seats needed to ensure solid control of Parliament.

The Liberals emerged from the Maritimes scarred but alive, having dropped two seats to the New Democrats and three to the Conservatives. The Tories picked up one seat by a razor-thin margin in Newfoundland and Labrador after being shut out in the last election.

A fractious campaign that began slowly in the last week of March turned into a ground-churning, two-horse race to the finish.

Ignatieff, the subject of more than a year of negative Conservative advertising going into the 36-day race, proved to be a game campaigner, but his anti-Harper call for change appeared to benefit Layton.

The NDP surged to unprecedented levels in Quebec after the leaders' debate and appeared to gain momentum across Canada in the last two weeks of the campaign.

Just 58.8 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2008 federal election, the lowest in Canadian history.

However, voters turned out in record numbers for early balloting on Easter weekend, leading some to speculate that an election derided as unnecessary by the governing Conservatives had somehow generated ample public interest.

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