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Published: Wednesday, 5/4/2011

Canada's election

Americans, it has been said, will do anything for Canada, our best friend and biggest and most important trading partner -- except pay attention to it.

As a result, few Americans may have noticed that Canada held a national election this week. Its results were momentous and highly significant for the United States, and for this region in particular.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party finally won a majority in Canada's Parliament. That wasn't especially surprising; the Tories have held power for five years.

Until now, though, they have led minority governments, which are unstable by nature. Now they will have at least four years to govern before they must face voters again.

There were three shocking developments. The New Democratic Party, which stands for a sort of European-style democratic socialism, had never before held more than a few dozen legislative seats. But they tripled their total this week to 102 members -- the Conservatives won 167 seats -- and become the official opposition for the first time in history.

If anything could be more shocking, it was the collapse of the Liberal Party, which has governed Canada for most of its history. The Liberals were left with a mere 34 seats, the party's weakest showing ever.

Meanwhile, the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which has dominated French-speaking Quebec's politics for years, was virtually annihilated, falling from 49 seats to just four. That outcome must be a relief to both Washington and Ottawa, which have long viewed the threat of Quebec's secession as anathema.

The election results are good news for those who rightly favor the construction of a new international bridge over the Detroit River. They mean there is no threat of Canada going back on the Harper government's offer to advance cash-strapped Michigan $550 million to cover its share of the costs of a new bridge.

There may be grounds for concern that Canadian politics, long a mixture of consensus and quirkiness, are becoming more sharply ideological. The quirky element is still there: A Connecticut-born environmental activist and Green Party member named Elizabeth May took on a Conservative cabinet minister in British Columbia, and won by a landslide.

It's clear from this week's election that interesting, important things are happening in Canada. Washington -- and Toledo -- would do well not to ignore the country we too often take for granted.

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