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May 9, 2011

The May 2 federal election was an overwhelming vote for a government that gets down to work and leaves the bickering and antagonism of recent years behind.

The election was, of course, an historic realignment of political parties in the country — the emergence of the NDP as Canada’s alternative party, the annihilation of the Bloc Quebecois and the pushing aside — at least for now — of the Liberals. But the realignment was the symptom of a desire for serious government without the gridlock of the past seven years.

Quebeckers moved first, indicating in mid-campaign that they wanted a positive alternative to the parasitical whining of the Bloc whose interventions in Ottawa were the broken record that would not stop playing. They found their alternative in the Jack Layton-led NDP and sent a clear message that Quebec wants to play a constructive role in Canada.

The other, seemingly contrary, shift was that of a significant number of Ontario Liberals to the governing Conservatives. One might interpret that as an effort to block a leftist party from assuming power. One might just as reasonably see it as a sign of the voters’ desire to end the policy logjam and counterproductive antagonisms.

The challenge for both the government and the parliamentary opposition will be to carry out their respective roles with minimal negativity. Canadians don’t want it. It appears that what they do want is open, honest government free from scandal and that respects the common good. There can and should be differences of opinion over what constitutes the common good. But it should not be too much to expect those differences to be expressed with reason and maturity.

The NDP long ago ceased to be a party that advocates anything close to socialism. If the federal Conservatives have been a moderate right-wing party, the NDP is moderately left wing. It would be too much for either to claim that the vote swings in their direction indicate the electorate’s desire for radical change.

The Conservatives, in fact, ran a sleep-producing campaign with virtually no policies on offer. Canadians were satisfied enough with their five-year record to give them a majority. If the May 2 vote wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, it was because there was so little to endorse.

The Canadian system encourages policy mush and avoidance of serious grappling with hard issues. The Conservatives were adept enough at offering mush to win a majority. If the NDP wants similar success in the future, it will likely have to trod the same path.

The May 2 election was a sign that, despite the finely-calibrated manipulations of the political parties, the people are still in control. The will of the people is not easily controlled. That, in the final analysis, is likely the most hopeful sign of a landmark election campaign.