Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Canadian leader Pierre Trudeau, has triumphed in one of the country’s most dramatic elections of recent times, trouncing the Conservatives to lead his father’s Liberal party back to power. After nine years in government, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper last night conceded the loss of his parliamentary majority, with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) calling the election for his rival almost immediately as the polls closed.
The 43-year-old Mr Trudeau, whose father was Prime Minister for more than 15 years in the 1970s and 1980s, is a sometime actor and former high school teacher, who sprang on to the public stage when he delivered the eulogy at his father’s funeral in 2000. He has been an MP since 2008 and becomes Canada's second youngest prime minister ever. Addressing his supporters at Liberal headquarters in Montreal last night, Mr Trudeau said: "This is what positive politics can do... Canadians from all across this great country sent a clear message tonight. It’s time for a change in this country, my friends, a real change."
The Conservative government’s woes included a weak Canadian dollar and a stagnant economy, while Mr Harper was also accused of stirring anti-Muslim sentiment in a row over whether women would be permitted to wear the niqab as they took the oath of citizenship. There was confusion when Mr Harper did not immediately announce his resignation during a concession speech in his Calgary constituency, despite a statement from the party saying he had asked for a new interim leader to be elected. "We put it all on the line, we gave everything we have to give, and we have no regrets whatsoever," he said.
The Liberals, who held power for 80 of the 110 years between 1896 and 2006, had shrunk at the last election to become the Ottawa Parliament’s third largest party, behind the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). Elected Liberal leader in April 2013, Mr Trudeau was a popular choice with the public, but his Conservative and NDP opponents wrote him off as a political lightweight who had coasted to prominence on his father’s name.
Yet he exceeded expectations on the campaign trail and the debate stage, leading a steady Liberal poll surge: from third place at the start of the long election campaign in August, to the clear frontrunner in its closing days. Most polls had predicted a minority government, but the apparent collapse of the NDP to a distant third place will now leave the Liberals, under the second Prime Minister Trudeau, with a clear working majority.
Canada has shifted to the centre-right under Mr Harper, who has lowered sales and corporate taxes, avoided climate change legislation and clashed with the Obama administration over the Keystone XL pipeline.
“The people are never wrong,” Mr Harper said. “The disappointment is my responsibility and mine alone.”
Harper said he called Trudeau to congratulate him.
The Trudeau victory will ease tensions with the US. Although Mr Trudeau supports the Keystone pipeline, he argues relations should not hinge on the project. Mr Harper has clashed with the Obama administration over other issues, including the recently reached Iran nuclear deal.
Mr Trudeau's opponents pilloried him as too inexperienced, but he embraced his boyish image on Election Day. Sporting jeans and a varsity letter jacket, he posed for a photo standing on the thighs of two his colleagues to make a cheerleading pyramid, his campaign plane in the backdrop with “Trudeau 2015” painted in large red letters.
“A sea of change here. We are used to high tides in Atlantic Canada. This is not what we hoped for,” said Peter MacKay, a former senior Conservative cabinet minister, shortly after polls closed in Atlantic Canada.
The Liberals were elected or were leading in 185 districts, with Mr Trudeau winning his Montreal district. The party needed 170 to gain a majority.
The Conservatives were next with 97, followed by the New Democrats at 28 and Bloc Quebecois with nine.
Mr Harper, 56, visited districts he won in the 2011 election in an attempt to hang onto them. On Saturday, he posed with Toronto's former crack-smoking mayor, Rob Ford, in a conservative suburb.
Mr Harper had said he would step down if his party didn't win the most seats. Former colleagues of Mr Harper said he would be personally devastated to lose to a Trudeau, the liberal legacy he entered politics to destroy. Mr Harper's long-term goal was to kill the widely entrenched notion that the Liberals — the party of Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien — are the natural party of government in Canada, and to redefine what it means to be Canadian.
Hurt when Canada entered a mild recession earlier this year, Mr Harper made a controversy over the Islamic face veil a focus of his campaign, a decision his opponents seized on to depict him as a divisive leader.
“Canadians rejected the politics of fear and division,” New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair said of the Harper Conservatives.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Canadians rallied around the Liberals as the anti-Harper vote.
The New Democrats suffered a crushing defeat, falling to third place after winning official opposition status in the last election. “I congratulated Mr Trudeau on his exceptional achievement,” Mr Mulcair said.
Paula Mcelhinney, 52, from Toronto, voted Liberal to get rid of Harper.
“I want to get him out, it's about time we have a new leader. It's time for a change,” she said.
Additional reporting by AP
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