THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are en route to form the next government of Canada after steamrolling out of Atlantic Canada and turfing Stephen Harper’s Conservatives from office almost before the polls had closed in British Columbia.
Trudeau, 43, becomes Canada’s first dynastic prime minister, following in the footsteps of his father Pierre Elliott Trudeau who served as prime minister for almost 16 years before retiring in 1984.
The Liberal party becomes the first ever to vault directly from third party status to government.
The campaign, which began on a sweltering August long weekend with the country firmly Conservative blue, ended under a threat of October frost and a Liberal red tide.
The shocking Liberal onslaught opened on the East Coast, where Liberals were on track for a remarkable sweep of all 32 Atlantic Canada seats, before rolling into Quebec and Ontario and Manitoba.
With the polls simultaneously closing from the Quebec-New Brunswick border all the way to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the scale of the Liberal charge was still up in the air as ballots were being counted, but the Liberals were on the cusp of a majority in the newly expanded 338-seat House of Commons.
With more than 3.5 million ballots counted, the Liberals had garnered more than 45 per cent of the popular vote.
Liberal candidates were elected or leading in 50 per cent more seats than the second-place Conservatives as polls closed in B.C.
For the 2015 election, there was no longer a blackout on transmitting voting results while polls were still open in other parts of the country – a ban that had become impossible to enforce in the age of the Internet.
Harper called the extraordinarily long, 78-day election on Aug. 2 hoping to become the first prime minister since Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1908 to win four consecutive mandates. However with all opposition parties vowing not to work with him after Monday’s election, it was apparent that only a very strong Conservative minority or a Tory majority would keep Harper on as prime minister.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair aspired to lead Canada’s first NDP federal government, but was in danger of losing the party’s hard-won 2011 grip on official Opposition status. Mulcair was also in danger of losing his own Montreal seat, barely leading the Liberal challenger.
High-profile Tories and New Democrats went down to defeat in the east, including Fisheries Minister Gail Shea and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, and NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie.
Finance Minister Joe Oliver was in trouble in the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, as well, while Olivia Chow – her late husband, Jack Layton, led the NDP’s so-called “orange wave” in 2011 – succumbed to Liberal juggernaut Adam Vaughan in Trinity-Spadina.
Liberals held just 36 seats across the entire country when the election was called.
The Conservatives held 159 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons and the NDP had 95 with another 18 seats either vacant, held by Independents or shared between the Green party (two seats) and the Bloc Quebecois and a splinter group.
Due to population growth, 30 new seats have been added this election, including 15 in Ontario, six each for Alberta and British Columbia and three more for Quebec.
The Liberals were expected to do well in Atlantic Canada but their remarkable sweep presaged a huge night for the party.
New ridings mean most old riding boundaries also had to be redrawn, literally reconfiguring the electoral map and making seat projections all the more difficult. Combine that with some spectacular polling embarrassments in recent provincial elections and pundits were having trouble forecasting the outcome.
“There’s a whole pile of new (riding) configurations, 30 new seats,” pollster Frank Graves of Ekos Research said as the campaign wound down.
“There’s some complex vote-splitting that we don’t know how it will work in those new ridings. We certainly don’t know who’s going to turn out to vote. That’s always critical.”
Some 3.6 million Canadians cast ballots during the four-day advance polling period on the Thanksgiving long weekend – an increase of 71 per cent over the 2011 election, when only three days of advance polls were held.
That increased turnout carried into the main event, with long lines at polling stations in many parts of the country. Just 61.4 per cent of eligible electors cast a ballot in 2011, up marginally from the 58.8 per cent in 2008 – the lowest ever in a federal election.
There were reports of voters with face coverings – including skeleton masks and even a pumpkin – at polling stations, an apparent reaction to the controversy over whether women should be permitted to wear a niqab at citizenship ceremonies.
A face covering is permitted at the polls if the voter swears an oath attesting to their status as an elector and shows the required identification, said Babin Dufresne.
Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde – who initially said he wouldn’t vote in order to maintain his neutrality, then changed his mind – tweeted about his trip to the polls.
The Bloc’s Gilles Duceppe cast his ballot and said he was happy with the reaction he received from voters who welcomed him back after a hiatus from the party leadership. “There’s always a phrase that stands out in a campaign and this time it was, ‘Thank you for coming back’ from beginning to end.”
Green Leader Elizabeth May, who voted in Sidney, B.C., took a polling-station selfie photo with her daughter and tweeted her prediction of a record high voter turnout. She planned to be in Victoria with fellow candidates to watch the results roll in.
– With files from Murray Brewster, Jim Bronskill, Jennifer Ditchburn, Bill Graveland and Chinta Puxley