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Page last updated at 13:43 GMT, Wednesday, 15 October 2008 14:43 UK

Almost more of the same in Canada

Conservative leader Stephen Harper speaks to his party following their election victory
Stephen Harper: Winning the minds if not the hearts of voters?

As you were, then. Canada's election has produced another minority government - the third in four years.

And it could be that many Canadian voters are asking themselves just why on Earth the country held a poll that resulted in the same outcome.

The Conservatives under Stephen Harper are set to form the next government, but will again be dependent on opposition support.

So has anything actually has changed?

Mr Harper, who triggered the snap poll, can point to an increase in his party's seats - up from 127 in the last parliament to 143.

It is a stronger mandate, but the Conservatives are still 11 seats shy of a majority.

The Liberals, the official opposition, saw their share drop by 19 seats to 76.

As in the previous parliament, they will be reluctant to block bills in parliament and risk triggering a poll they would be unlikely to win.

"The reality is that we're back where we were," says political scientist Gerry Baier from the University of British Columbia.

"The prime minister does not have a majority, but he may act as though he has one because the Liberals are not really in a position to fight another election campaign."

'Green shift'

Mr Harper called the snap poll last month, describing parliament as deadlocked and dysfunctional.

He started the campaign ahead in the polls, with some of them suggesting that he might clinch a majority.

ELECTION RESULTS
Conservatives: 143 seats, 37.6%
Liberals: 76 seats, 26.2%
Bloc Quebecois: 50 seats, 10%
NDP: 37 seats, 18.2%
Other parties: 2 seats, 8%
Source: Elections Canada

But the campaign soon came to be dominated by the global financial crisis, and Mr Harper came under particular attack for suggesting Canadians take advantage of "buying opportunities" in the stock market plunge.

Canada has been less affected by the global financial crisis than many other nations, with Canadian banks rated highly, and the country posted record gains in employment last month.

But many Canadians feel vulnerable to the gathering financial storm, especially with the US as their largest trading partner.

In his victory speech, Mr Harper acknowledged that his stance during the campaign - essentially for Canadians not to panic because the economy was strong - rebounded on him.

His comments almost immediately caused his ratings to slide amid widespread criticism that he did not understand the financial crisis and had no plan to deal with it.

No breakthrough

The Conservatives had been hoping for a breakthrough in Quebec, but the Bloc Quebecois maintained its strong support there and Mr Harper's party came third.

Two issues seem to have cost Mr Harper dear, says the BBC's Ian Gunn in Vancouver.

A Conservative plan to make minor cuts to public funding for some cultural programmes drew enormous attention in Quebec, and a proposal to increase penalties on young criminals that was popular in some other parts of Canada upset many Quebeckers.

One of the few victories of the campaign belonged to Canada's tiny Green Party.

While the Greens failed in their bid to win a seat, they did attract increased public attention and saw their share of the popular vote rise by several percentage points.

An effort by party leader Elizabeth May to have herself included in televised debates between party leaders won widespread popular support, and forced the remaining party leaders to reverse an early decision to exclude her.

"[We] grabbed national attention," Ms May told supporters, "not because we were tilting at windmills, but because we set out to do something right and we set out to do it for the right reasons."

Leaders' futures

The major parties will now be rethinking their leadership, our correspondent says.

With his increased number of MPs in parliament, Mr Harper may be reasonably secure, but his failure to engage much-needed voters in Quebec and a lingering public perception that he lacks empathy may raise some questions, says Mr Baier.

Liberal leader Stephane Dionwaves to supporters
Liberal leader Stephane Dion faces tough questions

"The result may prompt some within his party to ask whether he can win that majority. There will certainly be some questions that may dog Mr Harper."

Mr Dion will have the most to answer for. His party's campaign suffered from disorganisation and Mr Dion himself had trouble explaining the main plank of his platform, his "Green Shift" climate change plan which proposed imposing a tax on carbon emissions, offset by tax cuts.

Mr Dion's first language is French and he sometimes struggled to make himself clearly understood in English. But this was his first campaign as leader, and his party may give him a second chance.

Mr Harper's previous minority government lasted longer than many had predicted.

With more seats and a weakened main opposition party, the Conservatives could enjoy a lengthy stay in government.

But if the global economic troubles continue and begin to seriously affect Canada, Mr Harper could face challenges retaining public support.


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