Voting has ended in Canada's general election and with nearly all votes counted, Canadians have elected opposition leader Stephen Harper to lead the first Conservative Party government in more than 12 years.

Canada's Conservative Party surged to victory in Monday's general election, smashing the 12-year rule of Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberals.

Stephen Harper, the 46-year-old Conservative leader pulled ahead midway through the campaign.

Fifty-five days ago, when Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin called Canada's 39th election, he was leading in the polls and demonizing Mr. Harper and his party as too extreme for Canadian voters.

But the strategy that worked so well for the Liberals in the 2004 election, backfired this time around. Mr. Harper pushed his policies of tax cuts, an end to the corruption scandals that plagued the Liberal government, improvements to national health care, crackdown on crime and better relations with the U.S.

The Liberal scare tactics, Harper said, were phony. In a television interview, Harper compared his successful effort to re-unite the Conservative Party, which had split into two, with his views for governing Canada.

"My big goal as a leader has to bring all conservatives together, to make sure there's something in the party for everyone. But at the same time that no one group can demand everything and get everything it wants. And that's ultimately the way, if we get a chance to govern the country, the country has to be governed as well," he said. "You have to try and have something for everybody but no one group can hold the country hostage."

But the Liberal's message did have an impact.

Mr. Harper's Conservative Party is expected to elect about 124 of 308 representatives in Canada's parliament, just shy of a majority. This result was predicted by most polls and Mr. Harper knows his performance as prime minister will determine whether Canadians will give him and his Conservative Party their full confidence the next time they go to the polls.