Canadians re-elected Prime Minister Jean Chretien's governing Liberal Party to a third consecutive majority government, official but incomplete results showed early Tuesday.
The Liberals, who according to recent opinion polls appeared to be losing support, increased their representation from 161 seats in the dissolved 301-seat House of Commons to 172. The Liberals now boast to be the only political party with members of parliament from each of the 10 provinces.
The main opposition party, the populist conservative Canadian Alliance, increased its number of seats from 58 to 67.
The other parties -- the Bloc Quebecois, which supports independence for the French-speaking province of Quebec, the right-of-centre Progressive Conservatives and the left-of-centre New Democrats -- all lost seats.
Once again, the key was the voter-rich province of Ontario which returns 103 of the 301 members of the House of Commons.
And, once again, the Liberals benefited from vote-splitting between the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives.
Incomplete results showed that the Liberals had won 99 of the Ontario seats, down from 100 in the previous parliament.
Canada uses the British parliamentary system with the government being formed by the majority party in the House of Commons. Each member of parliament represents a geographical area with the winner being the candidate who wins the highest number of votes, but not necessarily an overall majority.
This means the Liberals were able to win a clear majority of parliamentary seats despite winning only 41 percent of the votes, according to early figures.
The second-placed Canadian Alliance was set to win 67 seats with 25 percent of the overall vote.
Overall, the results closely mirrored those of the 1997 election in which the Reform party (now the Canadian Alliance) won the majority of seats in Alberta and British Columbia, the Liberals controlled Ontario and Atlantic Canada, while the Prairies provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan were shared by the Alliance, the Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats.
Eastern Canada was divvied up between the Liberals, New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives while Quebec was mainly a fight between the Bloc Quebecois and the Liberals.
The election ended a five-week campaign during which personal attacks and mudslinging replaced issues as the driving force.
CBC Television commentator Don Newman said that, on the personal level, "this was probably the nastiest campaign I have ever seen."
Chretien was under constant attack for personally intervening to persuade a government corporation to give a loan to a business friend so the friend could develop a hotel in which Chretien once had an interest.
Chretien, in his victory speech, described it as "a campaign that was frankly too negative and far too personal."
But that didn't stop Chretien, during the campaign, joining other party leaders in attacking the leader of the Canadian Alliance, Stockwell Day, for his fundamentalist Christian views on abortion, the death penalty and creationism.
Day was also accused by all other party leaders of wanting to dismantle Canada's universal health system and old-age security programme -- charges he denied -- and he was embarrassed by several apparently racist remarks from some of his candidates in the election.
In the end, according to the political analysts studying the results, Canadian voters chose to stay with a middle-of-the-road Liberal government which has successfully turned a massive budget deficit into a massive budget surplus and has promised to spend some of that surplus on restoring the cuts made in social programs in recent years.
The victory also marks a personal success for Chretien who was being openly criticized by some of his own supporters for calling an election nearly a year before they believe it was necessary – OTTAWA (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)