It's Election Day in Canada, and it promises to be an historic one. Stephen Harper's Conservative government was returned to power in 2008, when it won a plurality of parliament, but not a majority, for the second time in as many years. The result was what they call a “minority government.”
But Harper lost a confidence vote earlier this year when all of the other parties in parliament decided to force the issue. As a result, we are about to see Canada's fourth national election in seven years.
For decades, the Liberal Party was that nation's natural governing party. Today, the left-of-center Liberals are expected to place third for the first time in Canadian history. The conservatives are expected to win again (although it's anyone's guess by how much) and the left-wing New Democratic Party.
We will find out tonight the precise effect of the NDP's late and sudden surge in the polls. One possibility: They act as a spoiler in enough races (both against the liberals and against the separatist Bloc Quebecois) to give conservatives an outright majority for the first time in 23 years. Another possibility: They win enough close races to weaken the Conservatives and return a smaller minority government. A third possibility, considered far less likely: They do well enough for their leader, Jack Layton, to become the next Prime Minister of Canada.
Under any of these scenarios, the NDP has an opportunity this year to replace the Liberals as Canada's default left-wing political party. In U.S. terms, this would be the equivalent of a third party overtaking the Democrats.