Canadian voters have radically redrawn the country's political landscape, handing the Conservative Party its long-sought majority in an election that decimated the Bloc Québécois and humbled the Liberals.
For the first time in history, the New Democratic Party will form the Official Opposition after an extraordinary breakthrough that propelled the party to more than 100 seats.
The extent of the transformation is startling. The Liberals now hold just four seats west of Guelph, Ont. The Conservatives, formerly shunned by Toronto voters, won nearly half of the seats in that city, twice as many as the Liberals.
The Bloc Québécois, which defined Quebec federal politics for two decades, no longer qualifies for official party status. And Green Party Leader Elizabeth May won the party's first seat, and the right to a place in the next election's debates.
Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe lost his seat and resigned. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff lost his riding. Both defeated leaders were squeezed, like many of their candidates, between growth in Conservative support and Jack Layton's surging New Democrats.
The night belonged to Stephen Harper, who put his party over the top after five years of minority government and becomes just the third Conservative leader since Confederation to win triple victories.
"We are intensely aware that we are and must be the government of all Canadians, including those that did not vote for us," Mr. Harper said.
Parliament was radically remade. The fragmentation of the 1993 election has been reversed, with the Conservatives and NDP emerging as national parties with support across all regions of the country, although the Tories find themselves in an unusual position, as a majority government with just a handful of Quebec seats.
"I've always favoured proposition over opposition," Mr. Layton told a cheering crowd. "But we will oppose the government when it's off track. I will propose constructive solutions focused on helping Canadians."
With almost all polls reporting, the Conservatives were elected in 167 ridings, and the NDP in 102, more than double its best historical tally. The Liberals were reduced to the lowest seat count in their history, elected in just 34 seats. The Bloc had just four.
"I'm leaving, but others will follow, until Quebec becomes a country," Mr. Duceppe said.
Mr. Ignatieff said he did not plan to step down as Liberal leader, adding that "democracy teaches hard lessons."
The next Parliament will return to the traditional shape of majority government, but it will be a very different House of Commons, with the Official Opposition well left of centre, the regional agenda of the Bloc largely excised, and the wild card of a Green MP.
"We need hope over fear, compassion over competition," Ms. May told a jubilant crowd, before focusing on the wider Parliament of which she is now a member. "We are elected to serve the people of Canada, not one ideology."
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 almost 31 per cent. The Conservatives' popular vote edged up close to the 40-per-cent mark, continuing the steady growth of the last three elections. But the Liberals saw their popular vote plummet to just 19 per cent from 26 per cent.
Mr. Layton will have a large and inexperienced caucus to manage, including Ruth Ellen Brosseau of Berthier-Maskinongé, an assistant pub manager who barely speaks French, doesn't live in the riding and vacationed in Las Vegas during the campaign - but still won by double digits over the Bloc candidate.
Mr. Harper faces a different challenge: Newly elected members, particularly a high-powered contingent of newly-elected Ontario MPs, will give the Prime Minister ample cabinet material, and give the rest of his caucus ample scope for disappointment. Seasoned diplomat Chris Alexander will surely be on the short list for cabinet. And Bernard Trottier, the francophone Albertan who defeated Mr. Ignatieff in his Toronto riding, will at least have that singular accomplishment for Mr. Harper to consider.
Across the country, the jump in NDP support was decisive, but its effect varied in Canada's two biggest provinces. In Quebec, the New Democrats swept to a stunning victory. But in Ontario - the key to the Harper majority - the NDP surge handed the Conservatives victories 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 came at the expense of the Liberals, who also lost two seats to the Conservatives. 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 the NDP was elected in 58 of 75 ridings. But the NDP was also grabbing seats from the Conservatives and Liberals; Conservative cabinet minister Lawrence Cannon lost to the NDP in Pontiac.
The Conservatives needed to win in Ontario to gain a majority, and did so handily.
The Liberals were in full retreat from the suburban ridings ringing Toronto, with the Conservatives making substantial gains. And the Tories pushed deep into the Liberals' Toronto fortress - including Mr. Ignatieff's riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore. Other prominent Toronto-area Liberals, including Ken Dryden in York Centre, lost their seats. It was a dramatic reversal for the Liberals, who swept Ontario in several elections since 1993.
The Conservatives made further gains in urban Canada, picking up Vancouver South from the Liberals. In 2008, former NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh squeaked out a 20-vote victory. But in a rematch with Conservative Wai Young, he was decisively defeated, losing by a nine percentage point margin. Often an outlier in federal politics, B.C. earned that title yet again: The Conservatives lost a seat, the only province in English Canada to resist the Tory march to a majority.
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