- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2006

MONTREAL — Canada’s Conservative Party leader, still elated from his election victory Monday, flew yesterday to the capital, Ottawa, where he must begin figuring out how to push his political agenda through a reluctant Parliament.

With just 124 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons, the presumptive prime minister, Stephen Harper, will have to find allies on an issue-by-issue basis from among three left-of-center parties.

Mr. Harper, a 48-year-old economist from Calgary, gave little indication of his plans yesterday, postponing a scheduled press conference until tomorrow and offering only a short greeting to supporters at the Ottawa airport.

“We had a good sleep, we’re all excited and we’re all feeling pretty upbeat, as you can imagine … to start rebuilding this great country of ours,” he said with his wife and two children at his side.

Mr. Harper, whose election ended 12 years of Liberal Party rule, campaigned on promises to clean up the government after a searing corruption scandal, cut taxes and increase defense spending.

He also promised to improve relations with the United States after a period of tension over Canada’s refusal to join the war in Iraq and a continental missile defense program, as well as trade disputes over softwood lumber and mad cow disease.

But he will have a much tougher time passing his agenda than his predecessor, outgoing Prime Minister Paul Martin, whose Liberal Party had a minority in Parliament since 2004.

Mr. Martin was able to turn for support to the Conservatives, the far-left New Democratic Party or the separatist Bloc Quebecois depending on the issue; Mr. Harper will be alone on the right wing of Canadian politics.

Analysts said he may find support for his plans to clean up government, cut the federal sales tax or allow the French-speaking province of Quebec to have its own seat at the United Nations’ cultural agency. But his conservative social policies will be much tougher to push through.

Still, with Liberals facing a leadership race after Mr. Martin said he will step down, and the Bloc Quebecois smarting from a surprise loss of seats, Mr. Harper can count on a few months of relative stability.

During his acceptance speech Monday night, Mr. Harper sounded a conciliatory tone.

“Tonight, although Canadians have voted for change, they have not given any one party in the House of Commons a majority,” he said. “They have asked us to cooperate, to work together and to get on with tackling the real concerns of ordinary working people and their families.”

Mr. Harper also pledged to follow the economic course set by Mr. Martin, who eliminated chronic budget deficits as finance minister in mid-1990s before taking over as prime minister in 2003.

“To those around the world who have watched this campaign our message is the same: The result tonight signals a change of government, not a change of country,” he said.

Mark Broderick in Washington contributed to this article.

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