Jean Chrétien's Liberals captured their third consecutive majority government by sweeping Ontario and regaining seats in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, but it's a win that leaves the country sharply divided along regional lines and gives the Liberals an unclear mandate.
"There really was no clear issue that defined the campaign and that would give the Liberals a mandate from the electorate," said CAUT president Tom Booth.
"There was a lot a mudslinging and personal attacks, but little real discussion about the concerns that Canadians want the next government to address."
The election saw the Liberals bounce back in Atlantic Canada from their poor showing in 1997 and make surprising gains in Quebec at the expense of the Bloc Québécois. The Liberals also maintained their stranglehold on Ontario, winning 100 of the province's 103 ridings.
In Western Canada, the Canadian Alliance strengthened its support with gains in Saskatchewan, and British Columbia, but the party failed to make the coveted breakthrough in Ontario. After a two-year effort to refashion itself out of the old Reform Party, the Canadian Alliance was soundly rejected by Ontario voters, with the party winning just two seats.
Despite a last minute gain in the polls, the Progressive Conservatives managed to win only 12 seats, just enough to maintain their official party status in the House of Commons. The New Democratic Party suffered losses in Atlantic Canada, but managed to hang on to 13 seats.
Booth noted the near record low voter turnout in the election suggests the Liberals may need to use the next session of Parliament to reach out to those Canadians who feel disenfranchised from the political process.
"I think a lot of voters felt this was an unnecessary election and that there was little debate about their priorities," Booth said. "The two main parties had a lot to say about cutting taxes, but polls consistently show most Canadians want action on health care and on education. That probably turned a lot of people off."
In the first week of the campaign, CAUT released a poll showing that 51 per cent of Canadians said the first priority of the next federal government should be to use the surplus to increase spending on health care and education. By contrast, only 21 per cent favoured income tax cuts.