MONTREAL/OTTAWA: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals were on track to win the Canadian election, CBC News projected, but with results trickling in the network said it was too soon to say how strong a government they would form.
Trudeau heads a government with a minority of House of Commons seats that relies on the support of other parties to pass legislation. He called an election two years early in hopes of securing a parliamentary majority.
"People would be very pleasantly surprised if there was a Liberal majority government, within the Liberal camp, but I think it's still way too soon to make that call," Gerald Butts, a former top Trudeau adviser and close friend, told CBC TV.
Elections Canada showed the Liberals leading in 146 electoral districts with only a small fraction of votes counted.
The House of Commons holds 338 seats and a party needs to win 170 to hold a majority.
Polls reported results much more slowly than usual, with some stations forced to limit occupancy due to COVID-19 restrictions. Long lines forced some electors to wait hours to vote in southern Ontario, a critical battleground.
The Liberals were leading in 113 parliamentary seats in Ontario and Quebec, which have 199 seats, or more than half of the national total.
In the first set of regional results, Liberals were leading in 23 of 32 parliamentary districts in the four Atlantic provinces. The Liberals held 27 seats before the election.
Erin O'Toole's opposition Conservatives had focused on adding to their four Atlantic seats, and were leading in nine.
The Canadian dollar CAD= strengthened as early results came in, rising 0.4%.
A delay in counting mail-in votes could further hold up results in tight races.
Elections Canada will not start counting roughly 800,000 mail-in ballots until Tuesday, after it is able to verify them against in-person votes. Those could help to determine the outcome in at least two Atlantic districts and many more across Canada.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon, Allison Lampert, Moira Warburton, Fergal Smith, and Amran Abocar; Writing by Rod Nickel; Editing by Peter Cooney and Edmund Klamann) ((email@example.com; +1 647 480 7891;))