Canada's Harper Returned to Power As Prime Minister

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

TORONTO, Oct. 15 -- Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was returned to power in national elections Tuesday, strengthening his Conservative Party's position in Parliament but still falling just short of an absolute majority.

The result seemed to guarantee another period of political instability for Canada, and it made a new election likely before the incoming government's four-year term is up.

Harper has led a minority government since 2006, relying on votes from opposition parties to pass legislation. Declaring Parliament deadlocked and dysfunctional, he called this snap election a year ahead of schedule, hoping for a majority. Harper was also concerned that waiting until after the U.S. elections might prompt Canadians to put a more compatible Liberal Party government into power if Americans produced a Democratic Party landslide.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Harper was on track to win 17 extra seats in Parliament, according to the country's election agency. Most of those seats came from an unexpectedly strong showing in Ontario, including Toronto.

Elections Canada reported Wednesday morning that the Conservatives appeared headed to Parliament with at least 144 seats, up from 127 when the last Parliament was dissolved in September. A party needs 155 seats for a majority.

"Canadians have voted to move our country forward, and they have done so with confidence in the future," Harper said early Wednesday in his home town of Calgary, Alberta. "Our party is bigger, our support base is broader, and more and more Canadians are finding a home in the Conservative Party of Canada."

The big loser was Liberal leader St├ęphane Dion, whose party dropped 18 seats, its worst showing in years. He conceded defeat Tuesday night.

"I have talked to Prime Minister Harper to offer him congratulations and my full cooperation in these difficult economic times," Dion said at a rally in Montreal.

He said he would not resign his leadership post, telling supporters, "Canadians are asking me to be the leader of the opposition, and I accept that responsibility as an honor." Nevertheless, he is expected to face a challenge from within the party.

"I think Dion will resign," said University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman. "It's Conservative gains, Liberal losses, and the Liberals look very weak."

The Liberal Party, long Canada's top party, were down to 77 seats, according to the election agency. Bloc Quebecois will have 48 seats; the New Democratic Party, 37; and independent candidates, 2.

With the global freezing-up of credit markets last month and the collapse of stock prices, the economy emerged as the most important issue in the election. Harper campaigned as having kept the worst of the crisis out of Canada. He was also helped by splits on the left between three rival parties.

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