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New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton speaks to supporters in NDP headquarters in Toronto on Monday, May 2, 2011.

Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Quebec City has always had a tradition of swinging hard in elections and often setting the course for other predominantly francophone regions.

This election was no different.

All of the five ridings in the city voted NDP. The orange wave, or tsunami, as it has now been called, spread east and west, through traditional Bloc Québécois country and sweeping away almost half of the 11 seats held by the Conservatives in the province.

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The Bloc Québécois was wiped off the political map in the region. Meanwhile, the Conservatives held on to all the ridings they had previously won on the south shore of the Saint-Lawrence river in small urban and rural ridings across from Quebec City.

But with only six Conservatives elected in the province, five of them in the greater Quebec City region, Stephen Harper will be hard-pressed to name strong representation from the province in his government.

Mr. Harper's Quebec lieutenant Christian Paradis was among the handful of victors, as was former cabinet minister Maxime Bernier. But Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, and two other ministers Josée Verner and Jean-Pierre Blackburn from the Saguenay region, went down to defeat.

Mr. Blackburn recalled how, in 1984, he was elected in a similar sweep of the province by Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives.

The NDP triumph has left many perplexed.

"It seems people have turned to a new kind of hope. People made that choice and we have to respect their choice. That is democracy," Mr. Blackburn said on Monday.

The NDP even won the riding of Berthier-Makinong, whose candidate Ruth Ellen Brosseau came under heavy criticism for taking a vacation in Las Vegas in the middle of the campaign.

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From a bastion of conservatism, Quebec City swung to the left in a quantum leap. The traditional fight between federalists and sovereigntists suddenly became a confrontation that pitted conservative and social-democratic ideals against each other.

The Bloc had always defended social-democratic ideals, but a desire for change persuaded about 45 per cent of Quebeckers to elect NDP candidates in up to 60 of the province's 75 ridings. The Bloc was left with no more than two or three ridings, lost of party status, and is in danger of disappearing from the Canadian political landscape.

For some sovereigntists, the question will now be whether to maintain a separatist party in Ottawa.

The NDP's amazing breakthrough in every region of the province has given federalist forces a stranglehold on Quebec. With more than half of its caucus from Quebec, many of them from predominantly francophone ridings in Quebec city and eastern Quebec, MPs from the province will have a major say over the direction the NDP takes as official opposition in the House of Commons.

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