Canadians gave Conservative Stephen Harper a victory in the Jan. 23 election, but no mandate. His party won 124 seats in Parliament, 31 short of a majority, meaning a coalition government with the inevitable compromises.
The outcome seemed less about enchantment with Harper and his agenda than weariness with the Liberal Party, grown stale and corruption-prone after 13 years in office.
Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin was untouched by the scandals. Unlike the relatively inexperienced Harper, he is a veteran of the top levels of government and, as finance minister, can legitimately claim credit for a long run of healthy economic growth. The voters, it seems, just felt it was time for a change.
However, if Harper’s election wasn’t a sharp turn to the right for Canada, it does nudge the country in that direction. He campaigned on cutting taxes, getting tough on crime, turning more power over to the provinces, replacing government-funded day care with direct grants and allowing patients a limited right to opt for treatment outside the national health-care system.
From this side of the border, the most satisfying outcome of the election campaign is that U.S.-bashing by the Liberals didn’t work. It helped defeat Harper in 2004, but this time tarring him as, heaven forefend, “pro-American” and an ideological soul mate of U.S social and political conservatives failed to sufficiently alarm the electorate.
It does not speak well of the Bush administration that relations with the rest of North America — Canada and Mexico — have deteriorated under the president. Here, at least with Canada, is an opportunity for a fresh start.