Canada voter turnout lowest on record

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadians shunned the polls during their general election with the lowest voter turnout on record, even as a global financial crisis threatened to plunge the nation’s economy into recession.

Some 59.1 percent of eligible Canadian voters went to the polls Tuesday, breaking the previous record low turnout of just under 61 percent in 2004, according to preliminary results from Elections Canada released on Wednesday.

“There was either general apathy toward the candidates or a degree of voter fatigue as this was the third Canadian election since 2004,” said Antonia Maioni, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

Under Canada’s system of government, the prime minister is able to schedule an election on the fly to test voter support and put seats in the House of Commons into play.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the first Western leader to face the electorate since the start of the international economic meltdown, called the election in the hopes of strengthening his mandate and won Tuesday with a slightly bolstered minority government.

Harper said he was concerned by the low turnout.

“We’re obviously disappointed when voter turnout is low, and it’s been low and getting lower for some time now,” Harper said at a news conference in Calgary, Alberta.

Canadian voter turnout peaked at more than 79 percent in the general election of 1958, in which Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker won what was then the largest majority government in Canada’s history.

The Liberal Party, the main rival of the ruling Conservatives, had its worst election performance in 24 years on Tuesday winning 76 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons.

An official from the New Democratic Party said the low voter turnout was a big worry for the country.

“It should concern all of us, no matter which party we’re in,” NDP Member of Parliament Libby Davies told CBC Radio.

Reporting by Richard Valdmanis and Randall Palmer; Editing by Peter Galloway