Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative party has recorded a decisive win in Canada's fourth federal election in seven years, taking 167 of the 308 seats in the lower chamber, the House of Commons. There were several surprises, not least the humiliation suffered by the Liberal Party, long regarded as Canada's natural party of government. Under the ex-academic Michael Ignatieff, the Liberals slumped from 77 to 34 seats, losing several in their traditional Ontario stronghold. The leader even failed to win his own constituency, or riding as it is called in Canada. Other shocks included the meltdown of the separatist Bloc Québécois (BQ), which lost 43 of its 47 seats. Further, the country now has its first Green MP, Elizabeth May. The Conservatives, for their part, can expect to serve a full four-year term in what amounts to a striking reversal of their fortunes since Mr. Harper's government was ousted by a vote of no confidence on March 26.

With this electoral outcome, Canadians will probably see more private sector involvement in their highly reputed national health service. Other likely developments are lower corporate taxes and more oil-drilling in environmentally sensitive areas. The new government may also relax some of the financial regulations that have enabled Canada to weather the global recession better than most countries. Internationally, Mr. Harper holds the United Nations in such contempt that he once went to the opening of a doughnut shop rather than a U.N. event. It would, however, be a mistake to see the Tory win as reflecting wholesale change among the electorate. The simple majority electoral system has given Mr. Harper's party a win on a vote-share of 39.6 per cent; while this is a gain of 1.96 percentage points on its 2008 showing, it also means that over 60 per cent of voters did not vote Conservative. Secondly, the Liberal debacle was largely due to the remarkable rise of the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP), led by Jack Layton. The NDP shot up from 36 to 102 seats on a vote-share which rose by 12 percentage points to 30.6 per cent. It even defeated a Conservative cabinet minister in Quebec, where it also won overwhelmingly against the BQ. Strong NDP support cost the Liberals several Ontario ridings by turning Tory-Liberal races into three-way contests. The Quebec vote shows nationalist rather than separatist support, and the analysed results reveal that Canadian voters are expressing a very different mood from that suggested by the aggregate outcome. Far from turning into fervid Tories, they seem to be looking for a better-defined and more confident centre-left identity than anything the Liberals can currently offer them.

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