Stephen Harper’s Conservatives headed to a third consecutive election win Monday as voters dramatically redrew Canada’s political map.
The New Democratic Party staged a stunning surge as the Liberal vote collapsed and the Bloc Québécois was all but wiped out.
As of 10:15 p.m. ET, the Conservatives had won or were leading in about 140 seats out of the 308 in the House of Commons while the New Democrats had about 90 and the Liberals about 30. The Tories needed 155 seats for a majority.
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The Conservative run started in Atlantic Canada, where the Tories overtook the Liberals in the popular vote and added three of the 12 additional seats needed to ensure solid control of Parliament.
The Liberals emerged from the Maritimes scarred but alive, having dropped two seats to the New Democrats and three to the Conservatives. The Tories picked up one seat by a razor-thin margin in Newfoundland and Labrador after being shut out in the last election.
Nationally, the Conservatives had 38 per cent of the vote, compared to 30 per cent for the NDP and 28 for the Liberals in those early results.
A fractious campaign that began slowly in the last week of March turned into a ground-churning, two-horse race between the Conservatives and the NDP, with the long-dominant Liberal Party falling to third place as Jack Layton leading his New Democratic Party to Official Opposition status and its highest seat total ever in the House of Commons.
That's a stunning change that became apparent only in the last weeks of the campaign. Polls suggest that Mr. Layton caught the imagination of many Canadians, particularly younger voters, with his performance in the leaders' debates and with his call for substantial change in Ottawa.
Mr. Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff initially focused their main attacks on each other, but then switched gears in the final days to take shots at Mr. Layton as he and his party surged across the country, particularly in Quebec.
The five major party leaders were among the millions of Canadians who cast their ballots earlier Monday.
“It's a great day,” Conservative Leader Stephen Harper declared as he voted in Calgary. “It's a great democracy. The sky is blue.”
Election day didn't go off without a hitch for the Harpers, however. An aide had to retrieve Laureen Harper's purse – and the identification in it – from their vehicle before she could vote.
The family then made an unannounced foray into an adjacent schoolyard, where the prime minister was mobbed by schoolkids wanting to shake his hand.
Mr. Harper ran a tightly scripted campaign that focused on trying to win a few key ridings that would make the difference between his long-sought majority and a third consecutive minority.
Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Layton cast ballots in their Toronto ridings in the morning, reflecting what is expected to be the most significant dynamic of the national ballot.
Mr. Ignatieff, not as well known as the others going into the 36-day race, got a boost early on but his support appeared to fade as the campaign evolved.
The Liberal leader shook hands as he arrived at a polling station in a junior high school in suburban Etobicoke, trailed by news media. He appeared a bit on edge and, for the first time since the campaign began, didn't have anything to say.
Mr. Layton's NDP surged to unprecedented levels in Quebec after the leaders' debate and appeared to gain momentum across Canada in the last two weeks of the campaign.
Mr. Layton voted in his Toronto Danforth riding, about a block from his home, accompanied by his wife, incumbent New Democrat Olivia Chow, his mother-in-law, his daughter and granddaughter.
He said he gets the sense Canadians “will break out of the old patterns and the old habits” of voting for either the Conservatives or the Liberals.
Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe also cast his ballot in the morning in the Montreal riding where he's believed to be fighting for his own seat.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and her daughter also cast ballots in the morning, saying they voted Green “to make history.”
Ms. May said she is cautiously optimistic about her chances to defeat long-time Conservative MP Gary Lunn in the Victoria area riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands.
If she wins, she'll be the first Green Party candidate elected to Parliament in Canada.
The Greens and Bloc Quebecois were well back nationally, with the separatist party lagging far behind the NDP even on its home turf.
With files from Anna Mehler Paperny and The Canadian Press