PM returns to Ottawa after majority win
Harper hails Quebec's 'shift to federalism'
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has returned to Ottawa a day after Canadians elected his Conservative Party to form its first majority government.
Cheering supporters greeted Harper and his wife Laureen, their children Ben and Rachel, as well as his campaign staff as the Conservative plane landed at Ottawa airport Tuesday evening from his home riding in Calgary.
Speaking at a news conference earlier in the day in Calgary, hailed Quebec's "shift to federalism" in Monday night's election, which reduced the once-dominant Bloc Québécois to four seats in the province.
The prime minister added he is disappointed that his majority government does not have a larger foothold in Quebec, as most of the Bloc losses came from an unprecedented surge by Jack Layton's New Democrats.
"Despite the fact that we did not make any gains, of course, as a Canadian and a federalist, I'm encouraged by the collapse of the Bloc," he said.
Harper won 167 seats in Monday night's election and will form his first majority government. He won minority governments in 2006 and 2008.
The Conservatives won 39.6 per cent of the vote. However, the party only won six of Quebec's 75 seats.
"I'm disappointed, but I'm not discouraged," Harper said.
The Conservative leader said he would not appoint an unelected person to his cabinet, which he did in 2006.
Harper said he would build his cabinet from the six Quebec MPs who won on Monday.
"We did win a number of seats for experienced MPs who will have a significant place within our government," Harper said.
"I would have hoped for more, but we do have significant representation there, and we will certainly be listening to what the people of Quebec say over the next four years."
Harper received calls of congratulations on Tuesday from U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. During his telephone conversation with Obama, Harper congratulated the U.S. president and military servicemen on this week's raid in Pakistan that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Obama also renewed his commitment to the border security framework agreement the two leaders announced in February, the Prime Minister's Office said.
Harper told Cameron he looked forward to seeing the British leader at the upcoming G8 summit later this month. The two leaders also discussed the situation in Libya, the PMO said.
Health talks with provinces coming
The Harper majority government will have to renegotiate a massive health-care deal with the provincial governments.
The Conservatives committed during the campaign to keeping the escalator clause in the deal that will see six per cent annual increases in health transfers.
Harper reiterated his support for a universal health system, but he said he is not opposed to provincial governments experimenting with alternative forms of delivery.
"As you know, provinces have within the existing framework experimented with alternative delivery, but that is different from moving away from the basis of a universal system of public health insurance coverage, and we are all committed to that," Harper said.
He said he foresees a collaborative approach to coming up with a new health deal with the provinces. He said he will also respect the asymmetrical arrangement with Quebec, which was agreed to in the health accord signed by the former Liberal government of Paul Martin.
After running a tightly scripted campaign, for the last several weeks, Harper seemed relaxed as he spoke to reporters on Tuesday morning.
Harper twice left the microphone to signal an end to his news conference and twice returned to answer one more question.
The Conservative leader recalled how he celebrated with his staff Monday night after learning that he would lead a majority government.
"My staff had me celebrating last night," Harper said.
"They pulled me up to the room, they made me pop this champagne, and after I'd said a few words, they passed me the champagne and wanted me to guzzle it out of the bottle. And some of you know I'm not much of a drinker, but I did. However, they tricked me, and there was only that much in it. So much for my wild side. That's as wild as it got."
As he recalled the story, he held his fingers to suggest there was very little champagne left in the bottle.