You would­n’t know it from watch­ing Amer­i­can cable tele­vi­sion or read­ing Amer­i­can news­pa­pers, but Cana­da today held a major fed­er­al elec­tion to deter­mine who will sit in the House of Com­mons of the 41st Cana­di­an Parliament.

(For those read­ers not famil­iar with Cana­di­an pol­i­tics, the House of Com­mons is their equiv­a­lent to our House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives… although the two bod­ies have some sig­nif­i­cant differences.)

The Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty, led by Stephen Harp­er, appears to have won a major vic­to­ry, becom­ing the major­i­ty par­ty in the House of Com­mons. The New Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty also had a great night, win­ning an unprece­dent­ed num­ber of seats. They will become the offi­cial oppo­si­tion for the first time in their history.

The Bloc Québé­cois and the Lib­er­als, mean­while, suf­fered huge loss­es, reshap­ing the polit­i­cal land­scape in Cana­da. As The Globe and Mail puts it:

Par­lia­ment has been rad­i­cal­ly trans­formed. The frag­men­ta­tion of the 1993 elec­tion has been reversed, with the Con­ser­v­a­tives and NDP emerg­ing as nation­al par­ties with sup­port across all regions of the coun­try. The Bloc has been reduced to a shad­ow, and the once-mighty Lib­er­als con­signed to redoubts in Atlantic Cana­da, Mon­tre­al and urban Ontario.

The Con­ser­v­a­tives appear to have gained twen­ty-four seats. Their cau­cus will grow from one hun­dred and forty-three to one hun­dred and fifty-five. The New Democ­rats have tripled their own num­bers, gain­ing six­ty-six seats. They will go from a mere thir­ty-six seats to an aston­ish­ing one hun­dred and two.

The NDP’s gains, as men­tioned, have come at the expense of the Lib­er­als and the Bloc Québé­cois. Each par­ty has ten­ta­tive­ly lost forty-three seats. That leaves the Lib­er­als with only thir­ty-four seats and the Bloc with only four.

The Green Par­ty, mean­while, attained its first seat ever in the House of Com­mons, with its leader, Eliz­a­beth May, defeat­ing the Con­ser­v­a­tive Min­is­ter of State (Sport), Gary Lunn, in the Saanich — Gulf Islands riding. 

Like the Unit­ed King­dom and oth­er Com­mon­wealth realms, Cana­da has a mul­ti­par­ty sys­tem, where­as the Unit­ed States only has a two-par­ty sys­tem. None of Canada’s par­ties are direct­ly anal­o­gous to the Repub­li­can and Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties in the Unit­ed States, though it’s fair to say the Con­ser­v­a­tives are right wing and the New Democ­rats are left wing. The Lib­er­als are more con­ser­v­a­tive than the New Democ­rats, but by Amer­i­can con­ser­v­a­tive stan­dards, they’re Communists.

The Bloc Québé­cois, on the oth­er hand, are a region­al par­ty com­pet­ing only in Cana­di­an fed­er­al elec­tions. Most of the seats they have held since the last elec­tion were claimed tonight by the New Democrats.

Among the Lib­er­als swept out of office was Ujjal Dosan­jh, who is slat­ed to give the keynote address at the 2011 NWroots Con­fer­ence on July 9th in Pio­neer Square. Ear­li­er this evening, fol­low­ing the release of the elec­tion returns, Dosan­jh announced his retire­ment from pol­i­tics, say­ing, “I’ve had a great run in polit­i­cal life and I have absolute­ly no regrets.”

Dosan­jh has indeed had a career to be proud of. Born in 1947, he was first elect­ed to office in 1991. He served for sev­er­al years as British Columbi­a’s Attor­ney Gen­er­al before becom­ing B.C. Pre­mier. Dur­ing the 38th Cana­di­an Par­lia­ment (July 2004 to Jan­u­ary 2006), he served as Canada’s Min­is­ter of Health.

Dosan­jh’s appar­ent suc­ces­sor is Con­ser­v­a­tive Wai Young, who he nar­row­ly defeat­ed in 2008 to retain his seat. Young will rep­re­sent the rid­ing of Van­cou­ver South in the next House of Commons.

Young owes her vic­to­ry in part to the New Democ­rats, whose can­di­date in Van­cou­ver South did bet­ter than expect­ed, cost­ing Dosan­jh pre­cious votes.

Bill Tiele­man, writ­ing for The Tyee (a pop­u­lar online mag­a­zine about news, pol­i­tics, and cul­ture which is based in British Colum­bia) sees the elec­tion as a defin­ing moment and a deci­sive loss for Canada’s once-dom­i­nant Lib­er­als.

Now the Tories and NDP have four years to solid­i­fy their posi­tions — and mar­gin­al­ize their opponents.

[Michael] Ignati­ef­f’s fail­ure to con­nect with vot­ers means the par­ty will seek its third new leader in three years.

Nei­ther a dis­cred­it­ed Bob Rae nor an unre­mark­able Justin Trudeau can res­cue the Liberals.

But the Bloc’s near elim­i­na­tion by the fed­er­al­ist NDP is a death blow to sep­a­ratism and Gilles Duceppe’s leadership.

Near elim­i­na­tion is a pret­ty accu­rate char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the Bloc’s defeat. They lost more than nine­ty per­cent of their seats. The peo­ple of Que­bec have dealt their province’s sep­a­ratist move­ment a poten­tial­ly fatal setback.

The Lib­er­als, mean­while, are still alive, but they’ve been great­ly hum­bled. With their leader Michael Ignati­eff oust­ed and more than half of their seats lost, they’ll be in rebuild­ing mode for a long time. Tiele­man obvi­ous­ly don’t think that they have the abil­i­ty to recov­er, and he cer­tain­ly could be cor­rect about that. His per­spec­tive is more ground­ed than mine.

I don’t fol­low Cana­di­an pol­i­tics as close­ly as I fol­low Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, but my guess is the New Democ­rats will be able to draw a bet­ter con­trast with the Con­ser­v­a­tives than the Lib­er­als. They seem like the future of Canada’s left-wing.

It’ll be inter­est­ing to see how they get along with Harper’s gov­ern­ment now that they are the offi­cial oppo­si­tion. They’ve nev­er been in such a strong posi­tion at the fed­er­al lev­el. This is a huge oppor­tu­ni­ty for them.

POSTSCRIPT: In Cana­da (and in oth­er Com­mon­wealth realms) they say gov­ern­ment, as opposed to admin­is­tra­tion (like we do). The Harp­er gov­ern­ment is thus akin to the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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