A moment came during the red tidal wave Monday night when a friend turned to me in awe. The CBC's seat counter had just clicked past 180 for the Liberals. "Oh my God," she said. "What have we done?"
No one, even diehard Conservatives, doubted that Stephen Harper deserved to lose. But even diehard Liberals wonder if Justin Trudeau deserved to win a majority government on his very first try, without the customary test of having to prove himself in Opposition, or, for that matter, any other responsible post in government. It's like giving your kid the keys to the Ferrari before he's finished driving lessons.
"I never thought this was in the realm of possibility," one voter told the CBC. "I wanted the young son to squeak in and be supported by maybe more experienced people."
"Oh well," said one of my Liberal friends cheerily. "At least he'll have adult supervision."
No one called this one. What happened was a snowball that picked up momentum as it went. During the last few days of the campaign it became a monster. The opinion polls were accurate about the fate of the Conservatives. What they didn't catch was the dramatic collapse of the New Democratic Party. People decided Justin was the best anti-Harper and stampeded over to his side. And that is how Tom Mulcair's dreams of glory melted in an instant.
All of a sudden Canada's political alignment looks a lot like it did 30 years ago – before the Harper decade, before the fragmentation of the right, before Happy Jack Layton created the hope that the NDP could be something more than an also-ran. The Liberals and Conservatives have most of the seats, and the PM is a handsome guy named Trudeau with three photogenic kids and a gorgeous wife. Break out those bell-bottoms and love beads. The '70s are back!
This is not a bad outcome. A strong, stable majority government with a healthy opposition will give us four blissfully election-free years. There will be none of the nail-biting uncertainty that afflicts a minority government. The Governor-General can return to his ceremonial duties. The Conservatives will regroup, rethink and rebuild. One day they'll be contenders again.
So what will Prime Minister Trudeau do with all that horsepower? His policy proposals (which many voters are only dimly aware of) are also a blast from the past. Expand the government. Tax breaks for the usual suspects, especially the sacred middle class (on top of the tax breaks they've been showered with for the past 10 years). Soak the rich some more and pretend it makes a difference. Deficit spending, whether or not we need it, on infrastructure projects that may or may not help the economy. But no idea of how to get our landlocked oil to markets, or any comprehensive plan to spur innovation and economic growth.
Mr. Trudeau's foreign policy ideas are naive and nostalgic. They hark back to the golden age of peacekeeping and multilateralism, as if blue berets and good intentions could defeat Islamic State. Those ideas resonate with voters, because they like to think of Canada as a force for good in the world. Unfortunately, the world is a nastier, messier place than it used to be, and niceness does not go very far.
One of the few people to see the landslide coming was Brian Mulroney, a political junkie who knows every one of Canada's 338 ridings inside-out. He has warned that Mr. Trudeau is a man of consequence, and last week he was telling friends to expect something big. Mr. Mulroney should know – it was a landslide that swept him into office in 1984, giving him the biggest majority in history. The joke was that if the election had lasted two weeks longer, he would have taken every single seat. (The tide went out in 1993, when his Progressive Conservatives were reduced to a pathetic two seats.)
"I ran and was successful because I wasn't Pierre Trudeau," Mr. Mulroney said Monday night. "Jean Chrétien ran and was successful because he wasn't Brian Mulroney, and Justin Trudeau tonight was successful because he wasn't Stephen Harper."
It's high tide for Mr. Trudeau now. Does he have the smarts and instincts to make the most of it? We'll have four years to find out. And I, for one, wish him well.