Welcome To Stasis

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OTTAWA: After a lackluster campaign touting the status-quo, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's ruling Liberal Party has returned to power by the seat of its pants, clutching a slim, four-seat majority that will barely support any ready-made Liberal solution to such nagging problems as Québec separatism, growing unemployment and a sagging national health care system. Taking up the position of chief opposition party is the Alberta-based Reform Party, whose right-wing, populist agenda dominated in the West. That was enough to push the separatist Bloc Québecois, the Reform Party's diehard foe, into the number two government heckler slot, further muddying the chances for a national referendum on Québec independence. The Liberals now face a House of Commons sharply divided along regional lines, with two smaller opposition parties, the right-wing Progressive Conservatives and the left-wing New Democrats, posting impressive comebacks. But Chrétien, who barely managed to hold onto his own Québec seat, remains sanguine, downplaying the prospect of a parliament frozen into stasis. "I say this is a season of transition," he told supporters in Calgary. Trouble is, for the moment no one seems to know where that "season of transition" will lead.