Liberal Party set to govern Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaking at a rally in Ontario on Sunday. The Conservative leader won accolades for guiding the economy through the global financial crisis relatively unscathed, but was blamed for the economic stagnation that f
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaking at a rally in Ontario on Sunday. The Conservative leader won accolades for guiding the economy through the global financial crisis relatively unscathed, but was blamed for the economic stagnation that followed. PHOTO: REUTERS
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau greeting supporters at a campaign rally in British Columbia on Sunday. Mr Trudeau’s agenda of infrastructure spending and tax hikes on the rich has appealed to voters who are feeling the effects of a sluggish economy.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau greeting supporters at a campaign rally in British Columbia on Sunday. Mr Trudeau’s agenda of infrastructure spending and tax hikes on the rich has appealed to voters who are feeling the effects of a sluggish economy. PHOTO: REUTERS

Projected win would end nine years of Conservative rule, but Liberals may need help of left-wing party to form govt

OTTAWA • Canadians appear set to end Prime Minister Stephen Harper's nine years of Conservative rule by electing a Liberal government led by Mr Justin Trudeau.

Results from yesterday's polls are expected later today. Opinion polls released on Sunday showed that the Liberals have surged from third place to take a seven-point lead over the Conservatives.

Public opinion, however, has shifted wildly - up to 12 percentage points - during the campaign. And many of Canada's 26.4 million registered voters remained undecided.

The Liberals are projected to secure the most seats in the Canadian Parliament, though short of the 170 required to form a majority government.

Still, that would mean Mr Trudeau is likely to form a government, with support from the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP).

Mr Trudeau, 43, is the son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, considered the father of modern Canada.

He is hoping for a reprise of the "Trudeaumania" of 1968, when the plodding style of an old-guard government was replaced by his father's vision and flair.

Mr Trudeau's agenda of infrastructure spending and tax hikes on the rich is resonating in a country struggling with depressed commodity prices and emerging from a first-half contraction.

The federal election has also become a plebiscite on Mr Harper, who won accolades for guiding the economy through the global financial crisis relatively unscathed, only to take blame for the prolonged economic stagnation that followed.

In power since 2006, Mr Harper, 56, is hoping to hold on to key Conservative support in the western plains and in suburban Toronto, Canada's largest city.

Over the past nine years, he has led one majority and two minority governments, under mandates that have never exceeded 40 per cent of the popular vote.

Scandals dogging the election campaign included Mr Harper's former chief of staff testifying against a Conservative senator accused of bribery, breach of trust and fraud - and the co-chair of the Liberal campaign, who resigned last Wednesday, being caught covertly lobbying for a pipeline builder.

Mr Harper has predicted that Canadians would pay more taxes under a Liberal government that would also plunge the country back into deficit.

"Every single vote for a Conservative candidate is a vote to protect our economy against Liberal... deficits and taxes," he said.

But Mr Harper is now up against a strong desire for change and his personal image - highlighted by Conservative television spots that open with "Stephen Harper may not be perfect..." - is at an all-time low.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, 60, meanwhile, recalled scandals of the last Liberal administration, despite being one of its potential partners.

"They may try to fool you by giving the old car a fresh coat of paint. But, as we have seen, the Liberal party is just as rusted-out underneath as it was when Canadians kicked them out of office for corruption the last time," Mr Mulcair said.

The NDP hopes to build on its second-place finish in the last ballot, in 2011, and govern for the first time ever. However, the party stumbled in recent weeks, losing key support in Quebec province over its opposition to a popular ban on the niqab, or face veil.

Issues during the lead-up to the elections, such as the record influx of people fleeing war in Syria, the niqab ban and a recession, gave Canadians a chance to assess parties' reactions in near real-time.

The 11-week campaign, one of the longest in Canadian history, also gave unprecedented exposure to the party leaders and their ideas in five debates and almost daily stump speeches.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline 'Liberal Party set to govern Canada'. Print Edition | Subscribe