- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2000

The long and short of it is that Canada's new Conservatism took a beating in Monday's national election. It was not merely the triumph of the Liberal Party its third election victory in a row headed by the highly durable 66-year-old Prime Minister Jean Chretien. It was the inability of the rejuvenated Canadian Alliance (once called the Reform Party) to find a mandate for its conservative ideas in Eastern Canada, above all in the heavily populated provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

The only consolation for Stockwell Day, the telegenic Canadian Alliance leader, is that the Liberal Party won handsomely by adopting conservative ideas tax cuts, balanced budget, reducing Canadian debt, less intrusive government. Whether the re-elected Liberals will implement those conservative ideas remains to be seen. Prime Minister Chretien is a diehard tax-and-spend Liberal.

One other election outcome will be of interest to Americans who have followed the Quebec independence movement. Mr. Chretien's electoral triumph was particularly spectacular in his home province of Quebec. What that means is that Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard, a sovereigntist, will think long and hard before he calls another referendum on secession. Two previous referenda were voted down by Quebeckers and a third referendum, according to public opinion polls, would also be defeated. Mr. Chretien, a foe of Quebec separatism, is prepared to do anything he can to prevent the breakup of Canada.

The Canadian election, based on a parliamentary system, had Canadian voters making invidious comparisons with the American presidential election. First, in Canada the whole business from Mr. Chretien's calling the election to the election itself lasted five weeks which, of course, meant a quick and speedy low-budget campaign for the major parties. Second, since victory or defeat depends on how many seats are won in the House of Commons, the voting is quickly counted and reported district by district. The ballot is a simple piece of paper with the names of candidates of each party for a seat in parliament. Third, radio and TV are barred from reporting exit polls or calling victors until all polling places in three different time zones have shut down and results reported. Funny, there are no complaints about government interference with freedom of the press.

As for the election itself, the poor showing of the Canadian Alliance (CA) was largely due to the split in conservative ranks. The onetime Progressive Conservative Party (PC) which went down the tubes in 1995 from a ruling party with more than 150 seats to two seats, has made a bit of a comeback with 12 seats. Its so-called leader, Joe Clark, a short-lived onetime prime minister, adamantly refused to allow a merger with the CA, so the Liberals marched to triumph. Mr. Clark was the Ralph Nader of this Canadian election.

Stephen Probyn, a onetime PC candidate from Toronto, a political analyst and friend of Stockwell Day, the CA leader, told me:

"The right is still split and the split will persist into the next election, basically guaranteeing the Liberals at least one more term. The Alliance machine is in tatters. The Liberals simply outclassed the Alliance at every turn."

The Liberals ignored advice that they ought to avoid negative campaigning. They turned Stockwell Day into a sort of fundamentalist bigot who was being supported by Holocaust-deniers, "Aryan militiamen," and racists. Mr. Day helped his opposition to paint him as a right-wing nut by confiding to a documentary camera crew that he was a Creationist.

"Having been foisted with that image," said Mr. Probyn,"it will be a long haul for Stock to convince the Eastern Canadian electorate he is not the devil."

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