- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2008

COMMENTARY:

MONTREAL

Conservatives in Canada have won an impressive election victory. On Tuesday, the Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, captured 143 seats in Parliament. This is 12 shy of the 155-seat majority needed - and what Mr. Harper hoped for. Nevertheless, it represents a significant gain of 16 seats for the Tories.

This means that the Conservatives will form a strong minority government. More importantly, under Mr. Harper’s leadership, the Tories have become a national political force. They did well in almost every region of Canada.


The only exception was in the French-speaking province of Quebec. Since first elected in January 2006, Mr. Harper has assiduously courted Quebec voters: He speaks good French, symbolically recognized Quebec as a “nation” within Canada, and even gave the province a separate seat at international meetings.

When trying to appease volatile Quebec nationalists, however, no good deed goes unpunished. The separatist Bloc Quebecois Party pounced on government cuts to the province’s cultural programs, as well as Mr. Harper’s pledge to get tough with juvenile criminals. The result: The Bloc Quebecois won about two-thirds of Quebec’s seats, and the Conservatives managed to grab only a handful. Mr. Harper failed to penetrate the nationalist fortress of Quebec - which cost him the governing majority he desperately craves.

The biggest loser, however, was the Liberal Party. It once dominated Canada’s electoral landscape. During the 1990s, the Liberals relegated the Tories to the political wilderness. Now, the Liberals have become a shadow of their former selves. They were trounced in their former stronghold of Ontario. Their leader, Stephane Dion, ran on a green platform, which promised to impose a carbon tax. Mr. Harper shrewdly argued that, during a global financial crisis, such tax increases would undermine the economy and plunge the country into a recession. The electorate agreed. The Liberals picked up only 76 seats. Their poor showing means Mr. Dion will face a leadership challenge - probably by spring 2009. Experts predict he will not survive an internal revolt. His days as the party’s leader are numbered.

Despite a fractured Liberal opposition, Mr. Harper clearly faces serious challenges. His government will have to contend with an aggressive de facto coalition of leftist parties - the Liberals, the Bloc Quebecois, The New Democrat Party, and the Green Party (which won no seats but received over 6 percent of the popular vote). They will block many of his initiatives. Moreover, Mr. Harper will have to manage a growing economic crisis.

Many observers believe the Tories have only about two years before they are forced to call another election. I disagree. Mr. Harper is a brainy technocrat, who possesses an impressive grasp of economic issues. In fact, Republicans would do well to follow Mr. Harper’s lead. He is a genuine fiscal conservative, whose record consists of prudent tax cuts, balanced budgets and spending restraint. He is an avid free-trader, who wants closer economic ties with Washington. Also, his government has not been tainted with the kind of corruption scandals that have plagued the GOP in Congress. In short, he is a model of fiscal responsibility and personal probity - the very sort of middle-class conservatism that many Americans hunger for.

Mr. Harper’s one major mistake has been to woo Quebec’s nationalists. He expended precious political capital in a futile effort. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Quebec separatism is not dead; it is only hibernating, waiting for the opportune moment to rear its ugly head. The nationalist movement is based on mystical romanticism and ethnic tribalism. At its very heart, it is xenophobic, intolerant and irrational. Its goal is not to accommodate Quebec within the larger federal state; rather, it is to destroy Canada. Appeasement will not - cannot - work.

Mr. Harper should end his attempts at an alliance with Quebec nationalists. Instead, he should provide a viable conservative alternative. This means slashing taxes, reducing public spending, reforming the dysfunctional health-care system, forging an independent foreign policy and devolving more power to the provinces. He must put the Canadian national interest above all other regional or ethnic concerns.

For decades, the country’s liberal elites have sought to transform Canada into a North American version of Scandinavia - a multicultural social democracy characterized by economic dirigisme, moral permissiveness and a United Nations-first internationalism. The results have been devastating: declining standards of living, crushing levels of taxation, growing lack of national cohesion, sky-rocketing rise in crime in major cities, such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, massive and uncontrolled immigration, the proliferation of family breakdown, pornography and drugs, and the loss of influence and prestige on the world scene.

The Tories under Mr. Harper seek to reverse this downward trend. Slowly, but surely, the Conservatives are consolidating their grip on national power. If they succeed, it will lead to a national rebirth.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times.