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New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

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By Ethan Lou

TORONTO (Reuters) - Members of Canada's left-leaning New Democratic Party voted on Sunday to oust their leader, Thomas Mulcair, six months after the party suffered a resounding defeat in a general election it had initially been favoured to win.

Delegates at a party gathering in Edmonton, Alberta, voted 52 percent for a convention to choose a new leader. Mulcair, 61, said he would step down as head of the party, but not until a replacement is named. The New Democrats voted to hold a leadership convention in two years.

The next Canadian election is not expected until 2019. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals, who started last year's election campaign in third place in the opinion polls, won a parliamentary majority in the October vote.

The NDP's constitution stipulated that Mulcair needed a simple majority to stave off a leadership vote, and he had said he would consider a higher threshold of 70 percent. Sunday's results fell short of either target.

Mulcair's party lost more than half its seats and fell to third place in last year's election. In a speech before the leadership vote, Mulcair took responsibility for the defeat, but urged party members to "keep standing with me."

Mulcair led in opinion polls when the election campaign started. His party, with the second most seats in the House of Commons, had been the official opposition to the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

But the center-left Liberals rode a late surge to a majority victory under the charismatic leadership of Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

During the campaign, Mulcair promised to balance the budget in a bid to bolster the party's economic credentials, but the stand alienated many grassroots supporters who wanted change after nearly a decade of Conservative austerity.

Trudeau's Liberals outflanked the New Democrats on the left, advocating deficit spending to spur the faltering economy.

Mulcair became NDP leader in 2012 seven months after the death of Jack Layton, who led the party to its best-ever federal election performance in 2011. Mulcair said on Sunday he would remain as the member of parliament for his Montreal electoral district.

Guy Lachapelle, a political science professor at Concordia University in Montreal, said Mulcair’s ouster represented the loss of the party’s last significant foothold in the mainly French-speaking province of Quebec, where the party lost nearly three-quarters of its seats in the last election.

Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor from the University of Toronto, said the next leader would likely be an anglophone and unlikely to command huge support in Quebec, where the NDP had once been popular.

"The party is in serious trouble now," he said.

(Reporting by Ethan Lou in Toronto; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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