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Canada's Liberal Party Holds onto Power - 2004-06-29

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal Party was re-elected, Monday. Although the party did better than pre-election opinion polls predicted, the Liberals earned only enough votes to form a minority government.

The Liberal Party managed to win 136 of the 308 seats in Canada's House of Commons, which translated into just under 37 percent of the popular vote. Although it won the election, the Liberal Party failed to win the 155 seats needed to form a majority.

Canada follows the British parliament-system style of government. Voters do not directly elect the prime minister. Instead, they choose members of Parliament. The party with the most seats forms government and its leader becomes prime minister.

During his victory speech, Mr. Martin acknowledged the decrease in support. He says the Liberals get the message that they need to work harder. "We, as liberals, have lost votes. We have lost good members of Parliament. But an election is a time to pass judgment. And, the message, in this regard, was unmistakable. Canadians expected and expect more from us," he says. " As a party and as a government, we must do better. And we will! I pledge that to you, tonight!"

Opposition Leader Stephen Harper's Conservatives fell short of opinion-poll expectations, winning 99 seats -- 30 percent of the vote. The separatist Bloc Quebecois, which was created to help Quebec separate from Canada, came in third, with 55 seats. The remainder went to the left-leaning New Democratic Party and one independent candidate.

Speaking from his campaign headquarters in Calgary, Mr. Harper said, despite the defeat, his Conservative Party will remain vigilant. "Mr. Martin has been given a mandate, but it is a modest mandate. I accept this mandate," he says. "We accept the verdict of the Canadian people. But, we will remind the Liberals they have been sent a message and we, the loyal opposition of this country, will continue to hold them accountable."

To remain in power, Martin's Liberals now will have to get the support of opposing parties on important parliament votes on issues like the national budget and major policy changes.

Twenty-five years ago, Canada's last minority government stayed in power for nine months.