Canadians can now "turn the page on the uncertainties and repeat elections of the past seven years," Stephen Harper said Monday night as voters delivered the Conservative leader his first majority government and brought a dramatic and unpredicted realignment to the country's political landscape.
The re-elected prime minister told the country that government affairs will begin "as early as tomorrow" with a plan for creating jobs and growth without increasing taxes, immediate help for families and seniors and eliminating the deficit while maintaining health-care transfers to provinces and territories.
"And friends I have to say it — a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government," Harper told a cheering crowd in Calgary, a reference to his oft-repeated refrain during the campaign.
Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jack Layton will now become Official Opposition leader and replace Michael Ignatieff, who himself was defeated in his own Toronto riding. Ignatieff took responsibility for the Liberals' historic electoral loss. Ignatieff's Liberals — often touted as Canada's "natural governing party" — placed a distant third behind Layton's party.
With 99 per cent of polls reporting, the Conservatives won 167 seats, followed by the NDP with 102, Liberals with 34 and the Bloc Québécois with four and the Green Party with one. A party needs to capture 155 seats to win a majority in the House of Commons.
Despite his majority victory, Harper pledged to work with other parties and praised their efforts over five weeks.
"We are intensely aware that we are and we must be the government of all Canadians, including those who did not vote for us," Harper said.
The Conservatives gained 23 seats, mostly in Ontario, while the Liberals suffered a 43-seat drop.
But the NDP, who nearly tripled their seat count, made a major breakthrough in Quebec, mostly at the expense of the Bloc, gaining 67 seats. The loss of 45 Bloc seats in the province prompted party leader Gilles Duceppe to announce he would resign in days.
Following his victory, Layton bounded up the stairs to address a near ecstatic crowd in Toronto, brandishing the trademark cane given to him by a supporter on the campaign tour to help him with his recovery from hip surgery.
"And let me tell you this: Spring is here, my friends, and a new chapter begins," Layton said, who was drowned out several times mid-speech.
Layton garnered one of the largest reactions when referring to the largely young crowd present at the NDP supporter party and their role in the election results.
The New Democrat leader said Canadians voted Monday to strengthen public health care, retirement security and help families make ends meet.
"And you voted to end the same old debates and political games," he told the crowd.
But he also vowed his party would oppose the Conservative government "with vigour if it is on the wrong path."
Ignatieff accepts 'hard lessons'
Ignatieff, who declined to say whether he would step down as party leader, said he still sees an "ongoing need for a party at the centre of Canadian life."
"I will serve as long as the party wants me to serve and asks me to serve, and not a day longer," he told supporters. The Liberal leader scheduled a press conference for 10 a.m. ET Tuesday.
In his concession speech, the Liberal leader offered "open-hearted" congratulations to Harper and Layton — "two opponents who have had the better of the night" — and accepted responsibility for the result.
"Democracy teaches hard lessons and we have to learn them all," Ignatieff told supporters.
It emerged shortly afterward that Ignatieff was beaten in his Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, while several prominent Toronto Liberals lost or were behind NDP or Tory candidates as of midnight ET.
Liberal front-bencher Bob Rae was asked Tuesday morning, before Ignatieff's resignation, if he might replace him as leader.
"Well, there’s lots of time to figure that out," he said. Rae praised his old friend for a "very fine and very open" concession speech.
"I think all Liberals — and all Canadians — who watched him realized this was a man of substance who hit a brick wall. And sometimes that happens, and there’s no explaining it. I think he’s handled himself with great dignity and determination, and I think he will continue to do that."
May wins B.C. riding for Greens
Duceppe, who himself lost to NDP candidate Hélène Laverdière in the riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, told supporters after his loss it was clear Quebecers wanted to give a federalist party another chance and now expected recognition of the Quebec nation.
"I am leaving, but others will follow until Quebec becomes a country," he said, as the crowd of supporters chanted his name.
Meanwhile, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May earned her party's first elected seat in Canadian political history, defeating former Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn in the British Columbia riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands.
"Today we proved that Canadians want change in politics," she told a crowd of jubilant supporters in her riding.
Results in Quebec showed the Bloc Québécois plummeting from 47 of 75 seats in the province to only two. The NDP, who previously had only Thomas Mulcair's Outremont seat in Montreal, were leading or elected in 59 seats in the province.
To amplify the Bloc's humiliation, the party lost the riding of Berthier-Maskinongé to NDP candidate Ruth Ellen Brosseau, a non-French-fluent assistant bar manager who admitted spending some of the campaign vacationing in Las Vegas.
Cannon, Blackburn defeated in Quebec
Some of the province's highest-profile Conservative politicians lost their seats. Despite overall Tory gains, Lawrence Cannon and Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who served as ministers in Harper's cabinet, were defeated in their Quebec ridings.
In Ontario, Conservative Chris Alexander defeated Liberal incumbent Mark Holland in the coveted Greater Toronto Area riding of Ajax-Pickering. The Tories are also holding their existing seats and leading in some key Liberal-held ridings such as Brampton West and Brampton-Springdale.
In Toronto, three high-profile Liberal candidates lost their Toronto-area seats, with Ken Dryden falling in York Centre, Gerard Kennedy losing in Parkdale-High Park and Joe Volpe defeated in Eglinton-Lawrence.
Outside of the city core, Liberal Ruby Dhalla lost her seat in Brampton-Springdale to Conservative Parm Gill while Conservative Julian Fantino was re-elected in Vaughan, defeating Liberal Mario Ferri.
The NDP was also holding its existing seats in the city, with Olivia Chow, Layton's wife, winning again in Trinity-Spadina.
Incumbent Helena Guergis, who ran as an Independent in Simcoe-Grey after getting kicked out of the Conservative party, lost to candidate Kellie Leitch by a wide margin.
Atlantic Canada leads change
The Conservatives and NDP began the night making gains in Atlantic Canada at the expense of the Liberals, who have won the most seats in the region in every federal election since 1997. The Conservatives had 38 per cent of the vote, compared to 30 per cent for the NDP and 29 for the Liberals.
In Labrador, the Conservatives won what was once considered a safe Liberal seat, with Peter Penashue defeating Liberal incumbent Todd Russell. The Tories had been shutout of the province following an "Anything but Conservative" campaign mounted in 2008 by former premier Danny Williams.
Meanwhile, in St. John's South-Mount Pearl, NDP candidate Ryan Cleary defeated Liberal incumbent Siobhan Coady.
In B.C., the NDP made gains, while Conservatives staved off the New Democrat "surge" that dominated media headlines for the last week of the campaign.
In the bitterly contested riding of Vancouver South, Conservative Wai Young unseated incumbent Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, who won by just 22 votes in 2008. Dosanjh, who has held the riding since 2004 and been active in B.C.'s political scene since the 1970s, said following the defeat he was quitting electoral politics
Orange surge for real
The results come as many analysts were caught off guard during the campaign after polls suggested a surge of support for the NDP, specifically in Quebec, following the leaders' debate in French.
Layton took advantage of this apparent spike, saying that voters were tired of both the Conservatives and Liberals and that the "winds of change" were in the political air.
The polls also forced Harper and Ignatieff to alter their strategy and focus more on the NDP leader.
Harper returned again and again to one main theme, repeatedly stressing the need for a Conservative majority. He warned that Canada’s economic stability was at risk if the opposition parties had enough seats following the election to form a coalition or some other power sharing arrangement.His warnings prompted accusations of hypocrisy from Layton and Duceppe, who claimed Harper was prepared to seize power through a coalition agreement after coming second to Paul Martin's Liberals in 2004. But Harper rejected the charge.
Although Harper had initially targeted a possible Ignatieff-led government, propped up by other parties, his focus in the later days of the campaign switched to the possibility of Layton in power.
For his part, Ignatieff slammed Harper over his handling of the economy and accused the Conservative leader of disrespecting the institution of Parliament.
He ran ads questioning if Harper could be trusted with "absolute power" and reminded voters that Harper shut down Parliament twice and had been held in contempt of Parliament.
Ignatieff had said he would like to stay on as leader regardless of the outcome of the federal election.