Martin to quit as Liberal leader, describes 'privilege to serve'
Last Updated: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 | 8:21 AM ET
"I will always be at the service of the party," he added in a speech to a crowd of emotional supporters in his Montreal riding of LaSalle-Émard. "The Canada we want is one very much worth fighting for."
He also said he will remain the Liberal MP in the riding, which he has represented for five terms.
"When I think about it, 17 years is a long time, and you have stood by me," Martin said.
Canada's 21st prime minister spoke to his supporters about two hours after CBC News predicted Harper's party would form a minority government.
The Conservatives were elected or leading in 124 ridings as of 1:30 a.m. EST, compared to 103 for the Liberals, 51 for the Bloc Québécois, 29 for the NDP and one Independent.
Martin, 67, expressed gratitude to the other Liberal MPs he has served with since 1988.
"We acted on the belief that Canada is strongest as a nation when we endeavour to ensure that no Canadian is ever left behind," he said.
Martin said he was particularly proud of his party's feat of turning around the finances of "a country whose spirit was nearly broken" by years of crushing deficits.
He was the finance minister, under then prime minister Jean Chrétien, who managed to wrestle that deficit to the ground and then turn it into a succession of eight consecutive surpluses.
"It is a privilege to serve Canada," Martin said.
Martin became prime minister in December 2003, only to be saddled with the legacy of Chrétien's controversial sponsorship program. A scandal over the diversion of funds from the program to Liberal-friendly ad firms in Quebec sullied the party's reputation and was blamed for Martin's inability to lead the party to a majority government in 2004.
"Paul Martin has just ended his political career with great grace and dignity," former prime minister Kim Campbell told CBC News in an interview from Madrid shortly after the Liberal leader's speech. Campbell, who was prime minister for several months before her Progressive Conservatives were defeated in 1993, is now the secretary general of the Club of Madrid.
Layton seeks ways to co-operate
Speaking shortly after Martin, New Democrat Leader Jack Layton was jubilant at having gained in both seats and the percentage of the popular vote. The NDP earned 17.5 per cent of all the votes cast, compared to 15.7 per cent in 2004.
"Thank you for your trust. We won't let you down," Layton vowed in a speech aimed at NDP supporters across the country.
"We asked you for your vote. You gave it to us and now we're going to earn it every day."
Layton drew applause when he thanked Martin "for his service to his country," but many in the partisan crowd booed when their leader spoke Harper's name.
"He will be Canada's next prime minister and it is a heavy responsibility and we wish him well," Layton said over the jeers.
Adding that Canadians "will not be looking for another federal election any time soon," Layton went on to promise that NDP members of Parliament "will be looking for ways to co-operate" with the Conservatives in a divided House of Commons.
Duceppe says Bloc will be at Harper's side
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, whose party lost three seats in Quebec and fell in terms of the province's popular vote from 48.9 to 42.3 per cent, nevertheless declared victory in his speech.
"Luckily this evening in Quebec, it's once again the Bloc Québécois," he told a cheering crowd, paraphrasing the party's campaign slogan. "Quebecers have put their trust in sovereigntists to protect their interests in Ottawa."
Duceppe used the occasion to send a message to Harper, who will need support to push through his legislative agenda.
"If he truly wants to settle the fiscal imbalance, and if he really gave Quebec its place in the national arena, he will find the Bloc Québécois at his side," the Bloc leader said.
"Everything that moves Quebec forward makes us much closer to sovereignty."