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A great blue sea

And an Orange Crush decimate the Liberal party

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OTTAWA -The fourth time was the charm for Stephen Harper.

The majority government he spent the last five weeks pleading for materialized Monday thanks to big gains for the Conservatives in Ontario, mostly at the expense of a now completely decimated Liberal Party.

The Conservatives added more than 20 seats to their total and exceeded the magic 40 per cent of popular support that is often seen as the benchmark needed to secure a majority government.

"Canadians can now turn the page on the uncertainties and repeat elections of the past seven years and focus on building a great future for all of us," Harper told supporters in Calgary.

The NDP and Jack Layton will form the official Opposition for the first time ever, jumping to more than 100 seats from 36.

NDP headquarters in Toronto were raucous with supporters screaming the party's name as the results poured across large television screens. The once-mighty Liberal Party of Canada is now left to pick up the battered pieces of its history, finishing third for the first time since Confederation. Its previous low seat mark was 40 in the 1984 election. Now it walks away with its worst showing ever. just 34 seats and less than 20 per cent of the popular vote.

"Defeat is hard, defeat is painful, defeat is difficult," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said. But he urged Liberals to buoy their spirits with memories of past victories and know the party will rise again.

Meanwhile in Quebec, the Bloc Québécois is on the verge of extinction going from first place in Quebec to dead last, winning between two and four seats. They won't even make official party status in Ottawa. Leader Gilles Duceppe lost his seat to the NDP, and the once-mighty separatist voice in Ottawa will play very little role in the next Parliament.

Duceppe immediately announced plans to resign as leader.

He said voters have elected the Bloc as the top party in Quebec since 1993 but "this time Quebec wanted to try something else."

"Democracy has spoken. I respect this choice and I assume responsibility for it."

In one of the most surprising moves of the night, the Greens elected its first-ever member as leader Elizabeth May defeated Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn in a Vancouver Island riding. The Green party threw its entire effort at that riding in this election rather than attempting to have May run a more typical national leaders' tour.

"Listen to this, Canada," May said, a huge smile on her face. "(We) today made history."

As the votes began to pour in from Atlantic Canada, it was clear the night would not be pretty for the Liberals as five incumbents went down to defeat -- three to Conservatives and two to the NDP. Among those defeated were popular Grit MPs Siobhan Cody and Todd Russell in Newfoundland and Labrador. It is the first time since 1988 the Liberals do not have the most seats in the four Atlantic provinces.

Through Quebec, it was the NDP with the most to cheer as the "orange crush" steamrolled across the la belle province, pushing Conservative, Liberal and most often Bloc Québécois candidates out of their way. They went from one seat -- the most the NDP has ever held in Quebec -- to a stunning 60.

The NDP took out a number of big names in Quebec, including Duceppe, three Conservative cabinet ministers, Lawrence Cannon, Jean-Pierre Blackburn and Josee Verner, as well as some front-line Liberals including Marlene Jennings and Marc Garneau.

The NDP's popular vote skyrocketed in Quebec, jumping from a best-ever 12 per cent in 2008 to more than 40 per cent in 2011.

The Bloc dropped drastically, raising serious questions about the future of any sovereignty movement in Quebec. .

The NDP won seats they were barely even campaigning in, including a seat north of Montreal with a young female candidate who spent the last week of the campaign vacationing in Las Vegas. Into Ontario, the Conservatives and the NDP marched across Liberal country, decimating the party in its Toronto fortress and elsewhere. The Liberals plummeted to nine seats from 37. The Conservatives were thrilled with a number of new victories, including physician Kelly Leitch taking out ousted Conservative Helena Guergis, and star candidate and former ambassador to Afghanistan Chris Alexander punting Liberal Mark Holland. The NDP added 10 seats in Ontario at the expense of the Liberals.

Across the West, the Liberals were practically entirely shut out, clinging to just two seats in British Columbia, one in Saskatchewan and likely just one in Manitoba.

Longtime Liberal stronghold Winnipeg South Centre was leaning Conservative at press time, though more than 40 polls including 6,000 votes cast in the advance polls were still to be counted. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff laid the blame for the Liberals great defeat on himself, and said the credit for what did work well goes to his staff and campaign team.

"Leaders have to be enough also to accept responsibility for a historic defeat," Ignatieff said, as Liberal supporters looked on with tears in their eyes. The Liberals once owned Toronto, with 21 of the 23 seats inside the 416 area code. They wake up this morning with just seven.

The losses include Ignatieff's own seat in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. Ignatieff said the party has been around longer than anyone currently alive and will continue long after the results of this election are forgotten.

"This party has a deep and ancient tradition," he said.

He did not immediately step down as leader, though he will not sit in the House of Commons again and the likelihood a new leader will be chosen very soon is high. The majority belongs to the Conservatives but in many ways the night belonged to the NDP as they had the biggest improvement in both popular vote and seat count and will play the role of the official Opposition for the first time ever.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2011 B1

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