CALGARY – It was a blue-sky morning for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, but it’s shaping up to be a dark night.
Cabinet ministers were losing their seats in Altantic Canada to Liberals, and the riding previously held by Justice Minister Peter MacKay also slipped away to that party.
While the Conservatives hadn’t been optimistic about their showing along the East Coast, they had at least hoped to hang on to their bedrock of support in New Brunswick. Instead they may be poised to lose all of their eight seats.
The party is grimacing not just at the seat count, but at the popular vote; it’s down by double-digits in Atlantic Canada and trending down in Ontario as well.
Publicly, Conservatives say it’s still early.
“Let’s see what the voters say all the way to the Pacific coast,” Calgary candidate and Defence Minister Jason Kenney told CTV.
While there is a treasure trove of seats in British Columbia, the Conservatives had already expect to lose several of them heading into the campaign.
Across Canada, Conservative candidates are busy writing and rewriting their Monday night speeches, many now jettisoning versions in which their party managed to win a minority government.
And the grousing about what happened and who to blame had already begun.
“On every issue, polling shows Canadians are with the government. Two things happened: a bad campaign and Harper fatigue,” said one Conservative source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized by the party to comment publicly on the results.
Complaints ranged from local campaigns not getting the preparation and support they’ve received in past campaigns to a failure by the Conservatives to campaign more effectively on their record _ as opposed to just attacking the Liberals.
At the Calgary Convention Centre, where Harper is expected to address his supporters later in the evening, about 400 chairs, all with small Canadian flags on them, are set up around a stage backed by massive screens.
The air conditioning is running at full blast in anticipation of a full room to warm up the cavernous hall later on. But the mood in the early hours remained cool as supporters began to trickle in.
Among them, former Conservative cabinet minister Lynne Yelich, who was the lone Conservative cabinet minister to lose her nomination in her Saskatchewan riding this past spring.
Dozens of seats are reserved for Harper’s family, party leadership and close friends, including Sheldon Kennedy, the former NHL player who has worked closely with the Conservatives on child abuse and prevention.
“It’s a nice blue sky. That’s how I’m feeling,” Harper said Monday as he entered the Centennial Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion to cast his ballot.
Harper has thus far refused to discuss his own political future after election night, saying only that it’s been an honour to serve as prime minister for nearly 10 year