To understand the significance of the Canadian federal election results, a good method is to look at which coalitions form majorities. The biggest difference between this election and the last election is that this time the NDP is relevant.
When we have a minority government, for a party to win a vote in the House of Commons, they must form a coalition with other parties to control more than half of the votes. To get a picture of where power lies among the parties, we can look at the possible coalitions that make a majority.
The results from the 2006 election were as follows:
The only coalitions that the Conservatives could form to make a majority were
Conservatives + Liberals: 227
Conservatives + BQ: 175
The NDP were useless to the ruling Conservatives and this made the NDP mostly irrelevant until the numbers changed in later by-elections. Fortunately for the NDP, the riding counts changed so that the Conservatives could make a majority by working with the NDP.
The results from the latest election are
This time, the Conservatives can make a coalition with any one of the Liberals, BQ, and NDP, and it would take all three of these parties to block the Conservatives. This means that the NDP have the same power to control votes as the Liberals and BQ.
It may seem unlikely for there to be any alliance between the Conservatives and the NDP, but it could happen. If the Conservatives have a piece of legislation opposed by the other three parties, they might try to buy NDP support by offering to support some NDP policy. Such bargaining is common, and if the NDP demands are more palatable to the Conservatives than the demands of the Liberals and BQ, we could easily see a temporary alliance between the Conservatives and NDP.
Analyzing the numbers of Members of Parliament for each party in this way can help to explain some of the deals that get made to pass legislation.