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With the Peace Tower in the background, pedestrians cross Elgin Street in Ottawa on April 27, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
With the Peace Tower in the background, pedestrians cross Elgin Street in Ottawa on April 27, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

With 100 rookie MPs, Parliament faces 'the proverbial herding cats' Add to ...

Congratulations, Canada: You've put together one dramatic 41st Parliament.

On Monday, voters teed up a dramatically different House - one dyed blue and orange with crippled Liberal and Bloc caucuses, a Green shoot and a wave of rookie MPs filling the corridors of the House of Commons.

About 100 fresh faces will be entering Parliament Hill for the first time as elected politicians when the House returns. That's well over the 66 first-time MPs elected in the 2008 election, but not unusual for Canada: About a third of the 308 seats in Parliament change over to newbie politicians in each general election, the result of high turnover in both retiring and defeated incumbents.

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But this Parliament boasts an unprecedented makeup. It's not only the first time the left-wing NDP has formed the Official Opposition - it will do so as a counterbalance to a strong Conservative Party that hasn't seen a majority since 1988.

And, Queen's University politics professor Ned Franks notes, this isn't your father's Conservative Party. He argues it's the first time in decades Canada has had such a binary House divided along such politically polarized lines.

Elizabeth May has scored a victory merely by her presence in the Commons, beating Tory veteran and former cabinet minister Gary Lunn to claim Saanich-Gulf Islands and the Green Party's first seat since its founding.

The Liberals and Bloc Québécois, meanwhile, return to the House without leaders and many of their veteran members. Gilles Duceppe announced he's stepping down as party leader Monday evening; Michael Ignatieff lost his Toronto riding and has thrown in the towel as Liberal chief.

But the real tug-of-war over power - such as it is in a hefty majority government - will be between two drastically divergent sides of the political spectrum. A newly confident and powerful Conservative Party, and a swelled troop of New Democrats high on a historic electoral victory.

"We're in uncharted territory," Prof. Franks says, "at least in my lifetime."

Both the New Democrats and the Tories have significant frosh contingents coming to the 41st Parliament. As the NDP's surge took hold in the final days of the election, its candidates were put under far greater scrutiny; critics charged many of them were "placeholders" without sufficient political experience to make it.

Joke's on them. Those political greenhorns are now elected members of Parliament.

The strength of the NDP's bench will be especially tested in Quebec, where the party increased its seat count from lonely Thomas Mulcair to a formidable 58-person posse.

The ranks of that newly elected orange force are variegated indeed: They include Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who drew flak for vacationing in Las Vegas during the campaign; Universite de Sherbrooke politics student Pierre-Luc Dusseault; and Charmaine Blorg and Matthew Dube, co-presidents of NDP McGill.

"Many of the people have no experience in politics before this. And so, I mean, running a political party with that many new members is going to be like the proverbial herding cats," Prof. Franks said. "The first duties of the House Leader is to get your members there for the votes. And the second duty is to get them to vote for you rather than somebody else. And that's going to be a challenge with that caucus - I don't think it'll be any challenge for the Conservatives."

It will be comparatively easier for the Conservatives to keep their new MPs in line. Among them are former ambassador Chris Alexander in Ajax-Pickering, Simcoe-Grey's Kelly Leitch and Wai Young, who unseated former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh in the wake of a bitter campaign in which outcry flared over her accepting acquitted Air India accused Ripudaman Singh Malik's public endorsement.

Stephen Harper is already well known for keeping his caucus in line. And among the many perks of majority government is the ability to provide enough benefits to MPs to ensure they toe the party line.

"The new members will be very comfortably absorbed; it's much easier to absorb new members when you're in government. ... Those guys are not going to bite the hands that feed them."

Despite having almost quintupled his party's seat count, Jack Layton arguably had more leverage in the 40th Parliament, where his was the second-largest opposition party in a minority government.

But it's still too early to tell just how polarized the House will be, says political scientist Jonathan Rose, and what the dynamic of MPs' co-operation will be.

"The NDP as Official Opposition really changes the hue of Parliament both in terms of tenor, substance and style. How this shapes up one won't know until Parliament meets again."

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