Trudeau brings Liberals back on top

Justin Trudeau Image copyright AP
Image caption Justin Trudeau came out on top in a three-way race

It was a sweeping victory that seemed unthinkable five years ago, improbable just months ago and unlikely even a few days ago.

And yet shortly after midnight, Justin Trudeau took the stage at Liberal headquarters as prime minister elect and leader of a party that will command a majority in the next Canadian Parliament.

"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," Mr Trudeau, voice hoarse from countless campaign speeches, told a cheering crowd in his election night victory speech in Montreal.

Mr Trudeau's election represents not just a change from almost 10 years of Conservative rule under Stephen Harper, but an almost unprecedented reversal of fortune for a Liberal Party that was nearly left for dead after the 2011 general election.

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Media captionJustin Trudeau: 'It's time for a change'

During that vote they finished a distant third, behind the majority Conservatives and an ascendant New Democratic Party that had become the nation's primary left-leaning voice of opposition.

That was before Mr Trudeau followed in the footsteps of his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and took the reins of the party, offering what he called a positive vision for the nation.

Now after a general election campaign that began with the three major parties tied in the polls, the Liberals surged to a win of historic magnitude.

They claimed 184 seats out of 338, a net increase of 150. They became the first party ever to move from third place in Parliament to a majority in one election. They won about 39.5% of the popular vote, up from 19% in 2011. They dealt a devastating blow to the NDP in Quebec, swept the Conservatives out of vote-rich suburbs of Toronto and even picked up seats in the Conservative stronghold of Alberta.

When Mr Harper first announced that this year's general election campaign would be a record 78 days long, conventional wisdom was it would benefit the Conservatives, giving them more time to bring their financial advantages to bear.

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Image caption Justin Trudeau's son couldn't bear to watch the results - but his father had nothing to worry about

In hindsight, however, the lengthy campaign gave Mr Trudeau an opportunity to introduce himself to Canadians and overcome Conservative attacks that characterised the 43-year-old former high-school drama teacher as too inexperienced and untested to lead the Canadian nation.

"Just not ready," went the Conservative refrain again and again.

But Mr Trudeau, whose public demeanour early in the campaign verged on manic breathlessness, grew into the role of party leader. And by campaign's end, the Liberals were running television adverts drawn directly from a speech Mr Trudeau gave before a crowd of thousands near Toronto, concluding simply with the word "ready".

Mr Trudeau also successfully outmanoeuvred the NDP, campaigning to that party's left on economic issues. While NDP leader Thomas Mulcair attempted to present himself as a responsible steward of the Canadian economy, Mr Trudeau pledged a more ambitious plan to run government budget deficits to fund infrastructure spending, provide middle-class support and increase taxes on the wealthy.

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Image caption His optimistic approach to politics won over voters

During his victory speech, Mr Trudeau thanked Mr Harper for his service to the Canadian people, observing that "Conservatives are not our enemies, they're our neighbours".

But he pivoted to provide sharp criticism for what he saw as the "negative, divisive" nature of a Conservative campaign that highlighted national security threats and its opposition to the wearing of the Muslim head-covering scarf called a niqab during citizenship proceedings.

"Our inclusive society did not happen by accident and won't continue without effort," he said. "Have faith in your fellow citizens, my friends, they're kind and generous. They're open-minded and optimistic. And they know in their heart of hearts that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.

"We beat fear with hope," he said. "We beat cynicism with hard work."

For Mr Trudeau, the hard work of bringing the Liberal Party back from the ashes is over. Now, as the next prime minister of Canada, the even harder work of governing is about to begin.

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