As expected, Canada has elected a minority Conservative government, but its prospects are uncertain. Instead of the 10%+ lead that many
polls had predicted, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives led the Liberals by
only 6%, 36.3 to 30.2 (official results here). That gives them 124 seats in
a parliament of 308, a gain of 25: the Liberals have 103 (down 32), the
Quebec Bloc 51 (down 3), and the New Democratic Party 29 (up 10). There
is one independent.

Liberal prime minister Paul Martin yesterday conceded defeat and
announced he would step down from the party leadership. Considering the
disarray they were in last year, however, the Liberals have done
reasonably well. It was not as spectacular a comeback as the German
Social Democrats made last September, but their new leader will be in a
position to make Harper’s life difficult.

Although the Conservatives have claimed a mandate, they must depend on the other parties to pass legislation –
primarily the separatist Quebec Bloc, who, although their vote was down
slightly (12.4% to 10.5%), have emerged as kingmakers. The
Conservatives are the less centralist of the major parties, but with
their strong base in western Canada many of Harper’s followers are
viscerally anti-Quebec, so it could be a stormy relationship.

The Conservatives also face a huge Liberal majority in the appointed
, which Harper has promised to try to reform. Reform of the lower
house voting system, however, is unlikely to be on his agenda, even
though this election shows how much it’s needed. The Quebec Bloc, whose
support is concentrated in one province, is greatly over-represented,
whereas the NDP, with more votes but thinly spread, has far fewer
seats. The two parties of the left between them outvoted the
Conservatives by more than 11%, but won only eight more seats. And the
Greens, with 4.5% of the votes, win no seats at all.