Justin Trudeau, the son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, will be Canada’s next leader, after a dramatic federal election that ended the divisive reign of the Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper.
The Liberal party won a surprise majority, taking 184 of the 338 seats in parliament with representatives in every province and roughly 40% of the popular vote.
After rousing his party from third in the polls to first place on voting day, Trudeau promised “sunny ways” for all Canadians.
Trudeau’s victory speech omitted any mention of his flamboyant father Pierre who led Canada from 1968 to 1984 with one brief interruption. “In Canada better is always possible,” a hoarse but jubilant Trudeau told cheering supporters at Liberal headquarters in Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth hotel.
He added: “This is what positive politics can do. This is what a positive, hopeful, a hopeful vision, and a platform and a team together can make happen.
“Canadians from all across this great country sent a clear message tonight, it’s time for a change in this country, my friends, a real change.”
Switching between French and English, Trudeau held out an olive branch to his defeated rivals after a vicious and divisive campaign. “As I’ve said many times over the course of this campaign, conservatives are not our enemies, they’re our neighbors,” he said.
And in an implicit rebuke to Harper – who had attempted to exploit a row over Muslim women’s right to cover their face – he said: “We know in our bones that Canada was built by people from all corners of the world, who worship every faith, who belong to every culture, who speak every language.”
The election was seen in part as referendum on the leadership of Harper and his neo-liberal economics and hawkish foreign policy. Opinion polls before the vote had pointed to a hung parliament, but in the event the election resulted in a resounding defeat for Harper.
His Conservative party fell from 166 seats to about 101 as a red wave swept out Tory incumbents across the country. The Conservative party announced it would be seeking an interim leader in the coming days.
In his concession speech before a despondent audience in Calgary, Harper did not mention his resignation, instead focusing on thanking his supporters. “We put it all on the line, we gave everything we have to give, and we have no regrets whatsoever,” he said, adding: “The disappointment you feel is my responsibility and mine alone.”
Analysis Exit stage right: Stephen Harper ducks and dives to the bitter end
Outgoing Canadian prime minister tells Conservative party faithful ‘we have no regrets whatsoever’ as he concedes defeat to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals
Conservative casualties of the night included a string of high-profile former cabinet ministers, including the immigration minister, Chris Alexander, and Joe Oliver who became the first finance minister to lose his seat in an election for more than 20 years.
The seats were representative of a Liberal sweep of the Greater Toronto Area, the populous and vote-rich area around Canada’s largest city, where the Conservatives made dramatic gains in 2011.
Peter MacKay, a former senior Conservative cabinet minister, described the result as a “sea change”. “We are used to high tides in Atlantic Canada. This is not what we hoped for,” he said, shortly after polls closed in the Atlantic Canada region.
The Liberal victory was also a punishing defeat for the the left-leaning New Democrats, which had started the 11-week campaign appearing to be within reach of power for the first time in history, but ended up with just 42 seats.
The New Democrat leader, Tom Mulcair, barely held on to his own seat and in his concession speech said: “Canadians made a choice and we accept it with humility.”
The Green party leader, Elizabeth May, kept her seat but the party’s share of the vote dropped slightly and it failed to make further inroads in British Columbia, a province where the party had focused a lot of its efforts.
Trudeau, 43, was first elected to parliament in 2008 and took the helm of the party in April 2013, winning a leadership race in what many called a coronation. He will be the second youngest prime minister in Canadian history.
Trudeau, who spent part of his childhood in 24 Sussex – the official residence of Canadian prime ministers – made his first appearance in national politics in September 2000, when he gave an emotional eulogy at his father’s funeral in Montreal.
Before officially entering politics, he spent time teaching drama, French and maths and working in youth advocacy – a CV that many of his critics have called “too thin” for a political leader.
The Liberals began the campaign a close third behind the Conservatives and New Democrats. But they focused on an upbeat message under the tagline ”Real Change” and offered bold policy promises, including a pledge to run three consecutive deficits in order to fund infrastructure spending.
Trudeau’s Liberal party began surging past the Conservatives in national poll averages at the beginning of October, and continued its steady climb since then.
After Trudeau’s speech, party faithful posed and took selfies at the podium where he declared his victory. Nearby, in a red T-shirt emblazoned with ”Canada”, Peter Szilagyi, 33, said: “Canada spoke out, we wanted change, we were fed up with 10 years of Stephen Harper.
“Four years ago we definitely didn’t think (a victory like this) was possible. It’s thrilling and it’s a very optimistic way to move forward. Trudeau united the party and united Canadians.”
A Liberal government will spell a sea-change in Canadian politics after a decade under the Conservatives – a shift that will be felt quickly on the world stage. The party’s election promises include ending Canada’s combat mission as part the US-led coalition against Isis in Iraq and Syria and refocusing military efforts on training local forces and humanitarian efforts.
Trudeau has also committed to bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada and invest $250m into refugee processing.
He has committed to pulling Canada out of the new F-35 stealth fighter jet program, a 12-country partnership that includes the US, UK and Australia.
The Liberals have also committed to launching a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women – something Harper repeatedly refused to do – amending the Conservative’s controversial anti-terrorism bill and legalizing marijuana in Canada.