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Canada’s 41st election sees fall of the Grits

By in 2011 Federal Election/News

JOSH O’KANE
Canadian University Press

TORONTO (CUP) — All the fierceness gone from his voice, Michael Ignatieff faced a tearful Toronto crowd and admitted defeat.

“Democracy teaches hard lessons,” the Liberal leader told the sullen crowd. “And we have to learn them all.”

In a historic election Monday, the Liberal Party of Canada fell into third place, and, for the first time since confederation, will form neither the governing party nor the official Opposition in Canada’s next government.

The further-left New Democrats will, for the first time, be the official Opposition to Canada’s third consecutive Conservative government.

As if the sting wasn’t strong enough, Ignatieff also lost his own seat in the House of Commons. Conservative Bernard Trottier, who led Etobicoke”“Lakeshore’s polls for much of the night, defeated the Liberal leader by nearly six percentage points.

The often-candid Ignatieff was careful with his words as he admitted defeat to supporters at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel.

“Leaders have to be big enough also to accept historic responsibility for a historic defeat, and I do so. I respect my responsibility for what’s occurred.”

Voters questioned Ignatieff’s leadership, but that certainly wasn’t the only issue at stake. The Liberals were felled, at least partially, by the vote-splitting of the left. As Conservative leader Stephen Harper polarized the electorate, the right united, but the left were faced with choosing between the Liberals and Jack Layton’s surging New Democrats. That, combined with the NDP’s steamroll over the Bloc Quebecois, pushed the NDP into becoming the official Opposition for the first time in the party’s history.

Despite leading his party into what is arguably its worst-ever performance, Ignatieff did not resign. Instead, he offered himself as an option, at least, but only if the Liberals continue to have confidence in him.

“I will play any part that the party wishes me to play as we go ahead,” he said, “to ”¦ reform the vital centre of Canadian politics.”

He later resigned as party leader during a press conference on May 3.

He was careful to note, during his defeat speech, that the party’s future was not in jeopardy.

“This party is bigger than any of us. It began before we were born; it will continue long after the events of tonight have been forgotten.”

Across town, Toronto Centre incumbent Bob Rae — himself a former NDP premier of Ontario — alluded otherwise in a televised speech, fueling at least some speculation of a future NDP-Liberal merger. He called the election a “night of bittersweetness,” adding, “We have to recognize the message that’s been delivered to the Liberal Party.”

Ignatieff — who declined to address his own defeat in Etobicoke-Lakeshore — kept his focus on the role of the Liberals as the only hope for a centrist Parliament, giving negative connotations to the politics of both the right and left.

“The role of a Liberal Parliament,” he said, is “to keep the vital centre of Canadian political life alive. I’m going to need the help of every Liberal ”¦ to stand with me as we rebuild and renew.”

The Liberals lost 43 seats in Monday’s election, holding a mere 34 seats in the House — compared to 167 Conservative seats and 102 seats for the New Democrats.

Among the members lost were Joe Volpe, Ken Dryden, Martha Hall Findlay, Ruby Dhalla and Mario Silva. Justin Trudeau, Papineau MP and son of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, was among the few to retain seats.

A caucus meeting is expected to be held next week to determine an interim leader for the party.


image: Alex Smyth/The Fulcrum

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