A day after his Liberal Party was reduced to a minority in Canada's Parliament, Prime Minister Paul Martin said he believed he could govern without forming an immediate coalition with separatist or socialist opposition parties.
"I think what we've got is a stable minority government," Martin told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa. "There are histories of minority governments that have been able to do great things. My own belief is minority governments can work."
Martin said he had called other party leaders to congratulate them on winning their seats but did not discuss specific issues with them.
Preliminary counts from Monday's vote showed the Liberals winning 135 seats and the socialist New Democratic Party 19. If those numbers stand, the total of 154 would put the pair one vote short of a majority in the 308-seat parliament. That means the Liberals would also need the support of an independent member of Parliament or a member of the separatist Bloc Quebecois to pass legislation. The main opposition Conservative Party and Bloc Quebecois would have 153 seats in the unlikely event they were able to form an alliance.
The results were bittersweet for Martin, who failed to win a fourth majority government for the Liberals but won a stronger minority than many had predicted. Martin said at the news conference that he had no plans to form a coalition because he believed his party's platform of supporting national health care and establishing a national child care program would attract the support of many members of Parliament.
The New Democratic leader, Jack Layton, vowed Tuesday to pressure the Liberals to keep their promises. "We will continue to push for public health care, an independent foreign policy and a clean environment," Layton said. "We respect the fact no party received a blank check in this election."
Layton said his party would also work to force Martin to rescind a letter of agreement the Liberals signed with the United States to join in a missile defense program. "The majority of Canadians don't want the country to go down that path," Layton said. "We hope the government will respect that view."
The Bloc Quebecois leader, Gilles Duceppe, told reporters in Quebec City that his party would decide on an issue-by-issue basis whether to support the Liberals. "We will see what other parties are thinking on each issue," Duceppe said. "Sometimes, the NDP, the Liberals and us will agree. Other times, it could be the Tories, the NDP and us agreeing."
The Liberals lost seats in Quebec after a financial scandal within the party angered voters. Police are investigating how millions of dollars disappeared from a program designed to promote federal government interest in Quebec after the province nearly voted for independence in the most recent referendum. Quebec voters indicated they were angry that their reputation was sullied and that the government thought their allegiance to Canada could be bought.
"This says people can't be bought by sponsorship programs and flags," said Duceppe, who added that the Bloc would continue to fight for an independent Quebec.
In Shawinigan, the home district of former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien, a Bloc Quebecois candidate defeated a Liberal candidate. Chretien, who was known as the Little Guy from Shawinigan, had held the district for the past 40 years.
Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party, who just weeks ago had projected his party would win a majority government, acknowledged his disappointment with the results. The Conservatives, who argued that the Liberals should be penalized for corruption scandals, captured only 99 seats, winning mostly in western provinces that are traditional Conservative strongholds. The Conservatives picked up 24 seats in Ontario but lost in Atlantic Canada.
Some analysts said the Conservative campaign lost momentum in the last weeks after a series of missteps, including an attempt by Harper to portray Martin as supporting child pornography. They said the Liberals also succeeded in stoking fears that the Conservatives had a hidden agenda to limit human rights and cut taxes and social programs.
Liberals credited their minority victory to the homestretch of the campaign. On the last day, Martin flew across the country, dipping his feet into both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and promising he would take no vote for granted.