There was a time when being named leader of the federal Liberal Party was a virtual guarantee that a politician was going to become Prime Minister of Canada. Edward Blake was the only Liberal leader who never made it. John Turner, of course, was PM for only three months and failed to win an election. Since 1867, Liberal leaders, not counting Stephane Dion, have served as Prime Minister for an average of eight years each. Collectively they have governed the country for eighty of the one hundred and forty-one years since Confederation.
The glory days of the Liberal Party began in 1896 with the election of Wilfrid Laurier as Prime Minister. Seventy-five of their eighty years in power have been since then. A key to victory for the Liberals was their lock on the majority of seats in Quebec in every election they won from 1896 to 1984. They failed to win a majority of seats in Quebec in the three successive majority wins of Jean Chretien (although they did succeed in holding a majority of Quebec seats as a result of by-election wins following the 2000 election). Chretien’s easy victories relied on massive majorities in Ontario. The Liberal house came tumbling down as a consequence of the acquisition by the Canadian Alliance of the Progressive Conservative Party in December 2003 and the Sponsorship Scandal.
The demise of a Liberal Quebec spells the end of the Grits as Canada’s natural rulers. With a united right, the multi-party splits outside Quebec don’t work any more to favour the Liberals and they’re not likely to in the future. This does not mean the Conservatives have become the natural governors. The fact that one third of Canadians now plan to vote for the NDP, the Bloc or the Greens means that we are en route to a new set of governing arrangements.