Liberal support collapses in face of NDP surge
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his wife Zsuzsanna Zsohar takes the stage Monday, May 2, 2011 in Toronto.(Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
In the face of cascading Conservative wins and a surging New Democratic Party, the Liberal party has collapsed at the polls.
One of the looming questions in the dying days of the campaign was how vote-splitting would shape Canada's 41st Parliament, and it seems to have helped the Tories win a majority and heightened the Liberals' collapse.
Speaking to CTV News, former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney said he had expected the Tories would win a majority partly because "the split that was coming on the other side of the equation."
"It's always easier when you've got two or three opponents on the other side… and you're hewing to the centre or the centre-right, as has been the case very successfully for Prime Minister Harper tonight."
The centre-left split was particularly pronounced near Toronto, where Liberal incumbent Ruby Dhalla was defeated by her Conservative challenger, Parm Gill, in Brampton-Springdale. Tory candidate Mark Adler took down Liberal incumbent and NHL legend Ken Dryden in York Centre.
Even Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff lost his Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding to Conservative candidate Bernard Trottier.
The same dynamic played out in a number of ridings across the country. In Vancouver South, for instance, Tory challenger Wai Young unseated Liberal incumbent Ujjal Dosanjh, with the local NDP candidate taking a significant portion of the vote.
Before a crowd of Liberal supporters Ignatieff pledged to stay on as leader and accepted responsibility for his party's poor showing, which will see them finish third at the federal polls for the first time in history.
"We have to be big enough, courageous enough, united enough as a party to look at ourselves in the mirror to listen carefully to what Canadians have said to us tonight," he said.
"There was longing for change, yearning for change," Ignatieff went on. "Unfortunately we could not be the beneficiaries of that longing for change."
Vote-splitting was expected to be a critical factor in Ontario, with NDP votes potentially siphoning off support for the embattled Liberals. High numbers for Jack Layton and the New Democrats in recent polls led to a wide range of projections and prompted efforts by Conservative opponents to encourage strategic voting.
Websites like projectdemocracy.ca and stopthesplit.org were set up, which warned that the Conservatives could win a majority of ridings with significantly less than 40 per cent of the vote. The sites allowed voters to check election projections for their riding and use that information to vote strategically against whichever party was the strongest Conservative challenger.
A number of Facebook groups also sprang up during the campaign to sway the outcome in particular ridings. One group called "Vote Swap 2011" encouraged users to connect with one another "to minimize vote splitting and increase the effectiveness of their vote."
But such initiatives seemed largely to fall flat.
Harper won his long sought-after majority and the New Democrats will form the Official Opposition in Canada's 41st Parliament, while the Liberals took heavy losses.
Throughout election day, Canadians weighed in on the vote-splitting issue via social networking website Twitter, with some making light of ridings in which similar fringe parties ran head to head.
"In Vancouver-Kingsway, Communists and Marxist-Leninists running," Andrew Bucholtz Tweeted. "Talk about splitting the vote."
Voting-splitting was a theme from the outset of the campaign, with Ignatieff warning that a vote for the NDP would help the Tories win ridings.
Over the past week, as NDP poll numbers rose to unprecedented highs, Prime Minister Stephen Harper adopted the same strategy in the hopes of courting right-leaning Liberal voters and halting the NDP challenge.
That strategy may have paid off.