The big topline story from the federal election yesterday in Canada is that the Conservatives won a solid majority of seats in parliament. Prime Minister Steven Harper will have extensive power to govern the country as his party desires.

On a historical level, though, probably the even bigger news is that the election saw the near collapse of two political parties. The Bloc Québécois was effectively wiped out at the national level. Last night it went from 49 seats in parliament to a mere 4, causing it to lose its official party status. While not as dramatic, the massive losses for the center-left Liberal party will likely have much farther reaching implications for the future of Canadian politics. For a long time, the Liberals have dominated the politics of Canada as one of its major parties, but this election saw them fall to a distant third. Liberals lost over half their seats, falling from 77 to only 34.

It was the left-wing New Democratic Party that mainly gained from the losses of the other two parties. The NDP had overwhelmingly its best national showing ever, going from 37 seats to 102, making it the official opposition.

Moving Canada toward a true left-right two-party system

The effective disappearance of Bloc Québécois and the huge loses for the Liberal Party could easily transform Canadian politics into some form of a two-party system in the near future. Exit polling found most NDP and Liberal voters supported a merger of the two parties. An official merger or some kind of a temporary non-competition pact in the next federal election to prevent the Conservatives from winning a majority with only 40 percent of the popular vote is at least a possibility.

Even if the party leaders don’t reach any kind of agreement, the voters may force a move toward a two-party system anyway. A big part of the Liberal Party’s appeal is that they could win, making them a solid pick for that “anyone but Conservative” voter. Now, though, they are a distant third, the extreme underdogs to win a majority, and three-quarters of Liberal voters support a merger with the NDP. Liberals’ base of support could further collapse if a few years under the right-wing Harper administrations causes voters to rally around NDP as the best chance of beating the Conservatives.

This election could easily mark the beginning of a new party system for Canada.