Some people on this side of the border thought the U.S. election last year was an earthquake. When the 103rd Congress RTC convened in January, fully one-fourth of the representatives and one-eighth of the senators were new to the job. They would have to be indoctrinated into the club and taught their manners. These freshmen, for their part, were determined to make a dent. They had been sent by an angry citizenry to change the way things work. Fat chance.
In Canada, it's a different story. When the time came to throw the rascals out, the voters really heaved. Clean house, new blood, fresh approaches, untested ideas? You bet, all of the above.
The federal House of Commons just elected in Canada is two-thirds new to the job. Is this unstable, irresponsible? Not a bit of it. There is a strong civil service in Ottawa as in Washington that is perfectly capable of showing the new members where the members-only washrooms are.
Ottawa, like Washington, exists for nouveau capital denizens and makes them feel at home the moment they arrive and contemptuous of outsiders the next week. In Washington it takes one month, tops, for a newcomer to mutter with a seventh-generation-native's disdain about "this town." Ottawa is no different. They both empty every weekend and holiday. Everyone is from somewhere else.
That the second- and third-ranking parties are sprung from nothing with no institutional history will have a real impact on Canadian affairs. That almost all of the 54 Bloc Quebecois members from Quebec and 52 Reform members from the West (these are provisional figures) are newcomers, however, matters less. They can learn parliamentary procedure very quickly. It is not all that difficult.
For that matter, the Liberal Party that will form the government also consists of many newcomers, going from 79 to at least 177 of the 295 seats overnight. But the new prime minister, Jean Chretien, is an experienced veteran who has worked his own way around the cabinet, and should have no trouble forming his own cabinet with a talented mixture of experience and new blood.
There has been much talk in the United States about term limitations. As though voters cannot be trusted to leaven the bread. Canadians exercised term limitations the right way. The voters rared back on their hind legs and threw those rascals out. That's the way it should be done.