This is one of those rare moments in Canadian politics that occurs, at most, once or twice in a generation. The drama is over and we’re in a strange suspension trying to figure out the meaning of the result. Everything has changed, but how?

The Harper government has a core agenda covering a few things it figures it can get through first, if not entirely without controversy — cutting the GST, a crime bill, and a government accountability act. Beyond that, the terrain gets boggier.

I was saying before the election that, given the possibilities, the best outcome would be a “Nova Scotia scenario” — the Tories kept to a minority with the NDP having the balance of power. It almost happened, but not quite. The Bloc Québécois has the balance.

This is the route to the quicksand part of the bog.

The Tory promise is to address the “fiscal imbalance” between the provinces and the federal government. The Quebec government has been the one most insistent on this (Alberta next, as though it needed the money).

It’s this promise that got the Tories their breakthrough in Quebec and gave them the legitimacy of being a national party they so craved. It also amounts, in Quebec, to a promise with constitutional overtones. As La Presse, which supported the Conservatives, said editorially afterwards, Quebec’s Tory votes are “conditional.” Fulfilling the promise could prevent the separatist Parti Québécois from returning to power and calling another referendum on independence. Not fulfilling it will lead to cries of “betrayal” and will lay the groundwork for our next separatist crisis.

But what will constitute “fulfilment”? For the Bloc, nothing will be enough — because if the move were to succeed, the party would be out of business. Thus, once the game is on, the Bloc will be constantly pushing for the Tories to deliver more and more, until the rest of Canada reacts negatively and, in the eyes of the separatist movement, proves its bad faith.

And a negative reaction might not be hard to provoke. Fixing the fiscal imbalance — and not everybody in the rest of Canada even accepts that there is one — will require transfers of tens of billions of dollars to the provinces.

This is in addition to tax cuts that will cost tens of billions more, plus significant increases to the military budget.

Where will the money come from? What will be cut? These questions ignite the other part of our little adventure, reviving accusations of the Harper “hidden agenda” — the desire to radically reduce the federal government’s political and taxing authority so that its role in medicare and other social areas will be crippled.

Anyway, the die is cast. “The fiscal imbalance” is indeed something that must be addressed. Let’s hope that “balance” can indeed be achieved — without wrecking the federation one way or the other.

Putting the brakes on will be harder than picking up speed, and I predict that it will quickly be the new government’s biggest problem.

How Stephen Harper handles it will be the main point on which history will judge his administration.

Here are a couple of other trails through the bog. There’s the large question of environmental policy, the possible trashing of the Kyoto treaty, and the hand of Alberta’s polluting oil industry in it.

We can pretend that economic growth trumps environment, but not much longer.

There’s also the issue of cities. Immediately, the country’s mayors are nervous over the fact that this is mainly a rural government, with no representation in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver — or in many smaller cities like Halifax, Victoria or Hamilton. What about the progress that had been made towards a share of the gas tax for cities, policies on transit, urban housing, and the social questions surrounding crime? Do these register on the Tory scale?

One large question, at least, seems to be answered: whether Harper would be a “puppet” of the U.S. The Bush administration is so damaged, in the eyes of the world and its own people, that, remarkably, one of the first acts of its new presumed best friend on the world stage is to tell it to buzz off, as Harper did at his press conference on the question of Arctic sovereignty.