5 Things You Really Must Know About the Canadian Election (No, Really)

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As editor of The New Republic, Michael Kinsley once held a ‘boring headline’ competition. The standout was a snoozer from the New York Times: ‘Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.’  …Get it? Canadians are boring.

Well, America, I must admit that we’re maddeningly low on former bodybuilders, forged birth certificates or beauty queens. Our politicians look like middle-aged economists, lawyers and bureaucrats. And, for the most part, they are.  But we had a pretty wild election last night. Here, in language even Americans can understand, is what you need to know about it:

1. The Conservatives won (again)

You thought we were as cute and cuddly as baby seals. Au contraire. Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada sailed to victory last night, winning 167 of 308 seats. The unexpectedly strong showing means the Conservatives will form a ‘majority’ government with Harper as Prime Minister. Since being elected in 2006, Harper and his crew have lowered taxes, increased military spending and poured money into a military operation (read: war) in Afghanistan. We can expect more of the same going forward.

2. The (once-mighty) Liberals lost

Talk about an upset. For decades, Canadian politics was a Liberal game. That changed in 2006, when Harper swept in from the oil-rich West, promising change. The Liberal comeback was to be led by Michael Ignatieff, an intellectual and author who spent decades at Harvard. But Canada never took to him. As Jeremy Keehn observes in his sharp piece for Slate, Canadians thought he “was too big for his sensible denim britches.”  His Liberals won just 34 seats, though he’s yet to resign. [Update: He later resigned]

3. The opposition is orange (and hairy)

The New Democratic Party, or NDP, is happy to wear Canada’s sensible, denim pants.  The party, whose signage and logo are orange, won more than 100 seats in parliament and, as such, will form the official opposition. That’s a first in Canadian history. With the Conservatives in charge, it might be hard for the NDP’s mustachioed leader, Jack Layton, to push for radical change (short of shaving said mustache). But expect him to press hard on issues like pension benefits for seniors, health care and poverty.

4. The (so-called) separatists got sacked

Perhaps the the remarkable thing about the NDP’s ‘orange surge,’ is that it swept right through Francophone-majority Quebec. The province has typically been dominated by the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois, a ‘sovereigntist’ party with ‘separatist‘ roots. This time, the Bloc won just 4 seats, prompting its leader to resign. Is this a sea-change for long-defiant Quebec?  Symbolically, maybe. But, says Don Macpherson in the Montreal Gazette, “If [Quebec] has opted back into Canada, it has done so only grudgingly, and maybe only temporarily.”

5. The Greens got a seat

The Greens! I told you we were interesting.