The election of a strong Liberal government puts Canada under the party that defined its nationality in the 1970s and now faces new tests over Quebec separatism. That was one reason for the landslide. The other, in a recession-weary country, was the jobs and economic stimulus promise of the new prime minister, Jean Chretien.
Political experience and inexperience explained the campaign effectiveness of Mr. Chretien, an uncharismatic old-hat politician, and the ineptitude of the ousted prime minister, Kim Campbell. Rarely in a democratic country has a politician risen so swiftly as she, or fallen so abjectly.
Mr. Chretien is likely to seek harmonious relations with the Clinton administration. His NAFTA policy is a problem for them both. Like Mr. Clinton, Mr. Chretien leads a party that had not negotiated NAFTA and contains opponents to it. He is committed to try to renegotiate parts of the bilateral agreement already in place with the United States. Since some American interests would leap at the chance, this would open a can of worms. The Clinton administration has already suggested trying other ways, under the agreement, to adjust its workings. This ought to be approached as a problem to be solved jointly, not an adversarial exercise.
For the first time in Canada, the official opposition -- the party with the second-most members of the federal parliament -- has a focused agenda of taking Quebec out of Canada. This may give Mr. Chretien a freer hand in federal policies than a conventional opposition would do. The Bloc Quebecois in Quebec and the anti-Quebec and anti-welfare Reform Party in British Columbia and Alberta did as well as polls anticipated.
Voters who were going to vote for any of the traditional nationwide parties, Liberal or Conservative or New Democratic, went in larger than anticipated numbers to the one that could win a majority. They prevented either regional party from becoming kingmaker or coalition partner at a grave cost to the federal relationship.
The Liberals, humiliated in their traditional Quebec stronghold, swept 98 of Ontario's 99 seats, 31 of the Maritime Provinces' 32 and 13 of Manitoba's 14. They went from 79 seats of the 295 seats in the outgoing parliament to 178. The Bloc Quebecois soared from 8 to 54 and the Reform Party from one to 52. The ruling Conservatives fell from 153 to an astounding two, wiped out in Ontario and the West, and the left-wing New Democrats from 43 to 8.
With the prospect of the Parti Quebecois winning provincial power in Quebec next year and calling a referendum on sovereignty for 1995, Mr. Chretien can plan now for that confrontation. It means using federal power to make Quebecers appreciate the federal dimension. For the time being, his Liberals are the only truly nationwide political party in Canada. It's their country to lose.