Canadians handed the Conservative Party its long-sought majority in a game-changing election that made the NDP the Official Opposition, destroyed the Bloc Québécois and humbled the Liberals.
Stephen Harper’s message, that only a Conservative majority could bring stability to government, succeeded. But with that majority, he faces a very different parliamentary opposition.
In a dramatic night, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe resigned as both he and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff were defeated in their ridings, pressed like so many of their candidates between a solid Conservative vote and surging support for Jack Layton’s New Democrats.
Leader Elizabeth May won the Green Party's first seat, taking Saanich-Gulf Islands in British Columbia.
The Conservatives were leading or elected in 165 seats, up from 143 at dissolution and comfortably ahead of the bare 155 needed to form a majority government.
The NDP was leading or elected in 103 seats, more than double its best historical tally. The Liberals were on track to be reduced to the lowest seat count in their history, leading or elected in just 35 seats.
The Bloc was leading in just four seats.
The electorate has now given Mr. Harper what he has sought since 2004 and his opponents have long feared, a secure majority that gives him a much freer hand to implement the Conservative agenda.
That is just one part of a radical transformation in Canada. The fragmentation of the 1993 election has been reversed, as the Conservatives and NDP emerge as national parties with support across all regions of the country. The Bloc Québécois has been reduced to a rump, and the once-mighty Liberals consigned to redoubts in Atlantic Canada and urban Ontario.
"Leaders have to be big enough to accept their historic responsibilities for historic defeat," said Mr. Ignatieff. "And I do so - that’s what leaders are for."
He said he would not resign as Liberal leader.
"Defeat is a teacher," he said. "I’ve learned more in my life from my own personal defeats than I have from those victories I have achieved. Now we have to learn the lessons of that defeat."
Worries, and hopes, that the NDP’s jump in the polls would fade at the ballot box did not materialize. Jack Layton and his party saw support climb nationwide to 31 per cent in early results.
The Conservatives’ popular vote edged up to the 40-per-cent mark, continuing the steady growth of the last three elections. But the Liberals saw their popular vote plummet from what was thought to be the nadir of 2008, falling to just 20 per cent from 26 per cent.
In Quebec, the Bloc polled just 23 per cent, the lowest the party has ever received – and well below what is deemed to be the hard-core sovereigntist vote. And the Greens saw their support cut in half, to 3 per cent.
Across the country, the jump in NDP support was decisive, but its effect varied dramatically in Canada’s two biggest provinces. In Quebec, the New Democrats swept to a decisive victory. But in Ontario – the key to the Harper majority – the NDP surge appeared to be primarily benefiting the Conservatives in tight three-way races.
The NDP’s rise began early but slowly on election night, with the party gaining two seats in Atlantic Canada.
Those gains were all at the expense of the Liberals, who also lost two seats to the Conservatives. But the Tories had been hoping for more than just a single pick-up in Newfoundland and Labrador, given that they did not have to contend with the brisk anyone-but-Conservative campaign launched by then-premier Danny Williams in the 2008 election.
Vote splitting on the left, a consequence of the rise of NDP support, gave the Conservatives a gain of three seats in Atlantic Canada, including Madawaska-Restigouche, where Mulroney-era cabinet minister Bernard Valcourt staged a successful comeback.
In Quebec, 18 years of Bloc Québécois dominance crumbled, as voters in that province flocked to the NDP. In early results, the NDP was leading or elected in 52 out of 75 ridings, with the Bloc on track to be reduced to less than a half dozen seats. Even Mr. Duceppe was defeated in his Laurier-Sainte Marie riding.
But the NDP was also grabbing seats from the Conservatives and Liberals in a sweep akin to that of the Bloc in 1993 or the Progressive Conservatives in 1984. Conservative cabinet minister Laurence Cannon was trailing his NDP rival in the early count in Pontiac.
The Conservatives needed to win in Ontario to gain a majority, and they appeared to have done so handily in early returns. The Liberals were in full retreat from the 905 suburban ridings ringing Toronto, with the Conservatives projected to make substantial gains.
And the Tories were even pushing deep into the Liberals’ Toronto fortress, competitive in at least a half-dozen urban ridings -- including Mr. Ignatieff’s riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore. Other prominent Toronto-area Liberals, including Ken Dryden in York Centre, looked to be headed for a loss. It was a dramatic reversal for the Liberals, who swept Ontario several times in the 1990s.
In the Prairies, Saskatchewan’s Ralph Goodale appeared to be the only Liberal able to withstand the NDP onslaught, while the New Democrats were likely to keep their single seat in Alberta.
On the West Coast, early results showed the New Democrats making some gains, but falling short of a breakthrough.