Liberals face major rebuilding after loss

Wed Oct 15, 2008 12:13pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Liberals, who have governed the country longer than any other party, faced a major rebuilding job on Wednesday after their worst election performance for 24 years.

The party -- saddled with an unpopular leader and unpopular policy platform -- ran a poor campaign leading up to Tuesday's election, in which the Conservatives were reelected with a strengthened minority.

The Liberals, still the major opposition party, won just 76 of the 308 seats in Parliament, down from the 95 they had when the vote was called.

It was the lowest Liberal tally since the 40 seats they captured in 1984. In terms of the vote gained, the party's 26.2 percent was the lowest since the 23 percent it won in 1867, in Canada's first election as a country.

The party is short of money and faces the prospect of a prolonged battle to replace leader Stephane Dion, a former federal environment minister who unexpectedly won the race to lead the party in December 2006.

Dion vowed he would stay on as leader but may find his position quickly becomes untenable as the Liberals start to chew over Tuesday's performance.

"They have a huge problem. If he won't go, they'll have to push him out ... With Dion as leader they can't win. They've got to make a change," University of Toronto politics professor Stephen Clarkson told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Newspaper commentators were unanimous in their view that Dion had to go.   Continued...

<p>Liberal leader Stephane Dion waves to supporters at his election night headquarters in Montreal, October 14, 2008. REUTERS/Shaun Best</p>