Canadians installed a Conservative government
in office for the first time in 12 years but with a limited mandate, signaling voters' desire for change at a measured pace.
Newspapers were quick to point out on Tuesday the fragility of the Conservatives' mandate, with one describing it as party leader Stephen Harper's "Thin Blue Line."
"Canadians did not endorse neo-conservatism when they elected him last night," the Globe and Mail newspaper said in an editorial. "They voted against a Liberal Party that had become smug and arrogant."
Numerous callers to radio
talk shows said it was time for change but they were not willing to revamp the entire Canadian political landscape by handing the Conservatives a majority in Parliament.
Monday's election gave the Conservatives 124 seats, below the 155 needed to form a majority. The ruling Liberals won 103 seats while the left-leaning New Democratic Party won 29 seats. The Bloc Quebecois, which campaigns only in the French-speaking province of Quebec
, won 51 seats.
"Each and every day, I will assure you of one thing -- I will dedicate myself to making Canada
more united, stronger, more prosperous and a safer country," Harper told an ecstatic crowd in the Western Canadian city of Calgary after his win.
The result was a major triumph for Harper, a 46-year-old economist who created the Conservatives in late 2003 by pushing through the merger of two squabbling right-wing parties. He will be the first prime minister from the oil-rich Western province of Alberta for 25 years.
Opinion polls had pointed to a Conservative minority. But the number of Conservative seats was somewhat below forecasts, indicating an unstable government
unlikely to last for long.
Minority governments in Canada
rarely last longer than 18 months. The outgoing minority Liberal government stayed in power for 17 months before it was defeated in November 2005 over a kickback scandal.
Unlike the Liberals, who governed with the help of the New Democrats, the Conservatives have no natural allies in a four-party Canadian Parliament and will need the support of political rivals on an issue-by-issue basis.
Harper has pledged to work with other parties to push through his agenda, which includes a cut in consumption taxes
and a balanced budget
The defeat was a humiliating blow for outgoing Prime Minister Paul Martin, who inherited a large majority when he took over in December 2003, only to see support fade amid scandals.
He has said he will not lead the Liberals into the next election.
The Liberals, long viewed as Canada's natural governing party, slumped in the polls after police said in late December they were investigating whether the finance minister's office had leaked information about proposed tax changes.
"Canadians voted for hope over fear and accountability over corruption," senior Conservative Jason Kenney said.
The Conservatives won 36.3 percent of the popular vote and the Liberals won 30.2 percent, their second-worst showing since Canada gained independence in 1867.
Harper also vows to clamp down on crime, cut waiting times for health care
and improve strained relations with the United States, with whom Canada has a number of trade
He says he will allow a free vote in Parliament about whether Canada should repeal laws that allow gay
There will be one independent, a Quebec talk show host who made a career out of lambasting politicians and railing against what he calls the Ottawa establishment.