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.

“This is a preliminary number that we’ll be monitoring,” Elections Canada spokesman David Rutherford said.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the first Western leader to face the electorate since the start of the international economic meltdown, won reelection with a bolstered minority government.

An official from the rival New Democratic Party said the low voter turnout was a big concern 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.

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.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion conceded defeat Tuesday amid speculation he would soon lose his job.

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.

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