CALGARY, Alberta — Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper pledged to quickly carry out his campaign promises to cut taxes, get tough on crime and repair strained ties with Washington after his party won national elections and ended 13 years of Liberal Party rule in Canada.
But those vows may be easier said than done. As Monday’s victory quickly gave way to Tuesday’s reality, it became clear that the Conservatives’ winning margin was too narrow to rule with a majority, a situation that will make it hard for them to get legislation through the divided House of Commons.
The triumph for the Conservatives came with many Canadians weary of the broken promises and corruption scandals under the Liberal Party, making them willing to give Harper a chance to govern despite concerns that some of his social views are extreme.
“Tonight friends, our great country has voted for change, and Canadians have asked our party to take the lead in delivering that change,” Harper, a 46-year-old economist, told some 2,000 cheering supporters at his campaign headquarters in Calgary.
Look to the West
The longest cheer came when he spoke to Western Canada, which has long felt the country has been too dominated by Ontario and Quebec. “The West has wanted in. The West is now in. Canada will work for all of us,” said Harper, who calls Calgary, in Western Canada, his home.
Harper said his new government — not likely to be sworn in for several weeks — would immediately move to cut the unpopular national sales tax from 7 percent to 6 percent, “reform the justice system to fight against crime and gangs,” and begin to allocate $1,042 to Canadian families for each child they have needing daycare.
He also wants to introduce a federal accountability act that will monitor government spending in an effort to avoid the corruption scandals that have plagued the Liberals.
Relations with the Bush administration could improve under a Harper government, as his ideology runs along the same lines of many U.S. Republicans.
Harper has said he would reconsider a U.S. missile defense scheme rejected by the current Liberal government of Martin. He also said he wanted to move beyond the Kyoto global warming debate by establishing different environmental controls, spend more on the Canadian military, expand its peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Haiti and tighten security along the border with the United States in an effort to prevent terrorists and guns from crossing the frontier.
Final results for the 308-seat House showed Conservatives with 124 seats; Liberals with 103; the Bloc Quebecois with 51, New Democratic Party with 29; and one seat to an Independent.
The Conservatives also earned 10 seats in Quebec, where they were virtually shut out in the last elections of June 2004. Harper said it was symbolic of the Quebecois desire for national unity as opposed to sovereignty for the French-speaking province.
“I have just called Stephen Harper and I’ve offered him my congratulations,” Martin told a subdued crowd at his headquarters in Montreal. “We differ on many things, but we all share a believe in the potential and the progress of Canada.”
The Conservative victory ended more than a decade of Liberal Party rule and shifted the traditionally liberal country to the right on socio-economic issues such as health care, taxation, abortion and gay marriage. Some Canadians have expressed reservations about Harpers’ views opposing abortion and gay marriage.
During the campaign, Harper pledged to cut the red tape in social welfare programs, lower the national sales tax from 7 percent to 5 percent and grant more autonomy and federal funding to Canada’s 13 provinces and territories.
The Liberals have angered Washington in recent years, condemning the war in Iraq, refusing to join the continental anti-ballistic missile plan and criticizing President Bush for rejecting the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions and enacting punitive Canadian lumber tariffs.
Martin, 67, had trumpeted eight consecutive budget surpluses and sought to paint Harper as a right-winger posing as a moderate to woo mainstream voters. He claimed Harper supports the war in Iraq, which most Canadians oppose, and would try to outlaw abortion and overturn gay marriage.
Harper denied those claims and said Sunday that Martin had failed to swing voters against him.
“Canadians can disagree, but it takes a lot to get Canadians to intensely hate something or hate somebody. And it usually involves hockey,” Harper quipped.
Voters cast ballots at 60,000 polling stations amid unseasonably mild winter weather. Turnout from the country’s 22.7 million registered voters was expected to be better than the 60 percent of the June 2004 election, the lowest number since 1898.
Martin’s government and the House were dissolved in November after New Democrats defected from the governing coalition to support the Conservatives in a no-confidence vote amid a corruption scandal involving the misuse of funds for a national unity program in Quebec.
An investigation absolved the prime minister of wrongdoing but accused senior Liberals of taking kickbacks and misspending tens of millions of dollars in public funds.
Just as campaigning hit full swing over the Christmas holidays, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced they were investigating a possible leak by Liberal government officials that appeared to have influenced the stock market.
When the 38th Parliament was dissolved, the Liberals had 133 seats, the Conservatives had 98, the Quebec separatist party Bloc Quebecois had 53 and the New Democrats had 18. There also were four Independents and two vacancies.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.