TAUBE: Conservatives victorious in Canada

Why Stephen Harper is good for Canada-U.S. relations

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On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper won his third straight federal election since 2006 - and first majority-Conservative government. This means Canada-U.S. relations will remain strong for another four years.

Many Canadian conservatives rejoiced after Mr. Harper got his majority. In two straight minority Parliaments, the Tories have struggled to get meaningful legislation passed because of the political left: the opposition Liberals, socialist New Democrats and separatist/socialist Bloc Quebecois.

That’s the way the political game is played, and all Canadian parliamentarians and pundits realized this. It didn’t make the situation any less frustrating for the prime minister and his senior staff, of course. With a majority in place, the political debate obviously will keep its theatrical component but will be more policy-driven and focused on political and economic benefits.

Unfortunately, Canada’s Conservatives haven’t delivered the model small-c conservative - or moderate conservative - government some had hoped to see, including myself. They’ve had mixed results in domestic policy and haven’t always respected fiscal prudence. This includes the implementation of targeted tax cuts rather than broad-based tax relief for all Canadians, waves of massive spending on wasteful infrastructure projects, and no meaningful economic reforms to bloated social programs like health care and welfare.

Some of this can be attributed to the Tories’ minority-government status. There has to be some give and take with opposition parties to get legislation passed. That’s not the only reason, however. There was a strategic decision on Mr. Harper’s part to make conservatism more acceptable - and palatable - to Canadians. He will continue to do it with his majority. If not, critics will insist there always was a “hidden agenda” on Canada’s right - and the party’s fortunes could go down the drain. Mr. Harper, a serious political thinker, isn’t about to let that happen.

The Conservatives obviously have had some political and economic successes, both domestically and internationally. In particular, Mr. Harper worked hard to repair icy Canada-U.S. relations when first elected to office. Previous Liberal governments under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin had damaged this relationship by allowing offensive whiffs of anti-Americanism to seep into their policies. Two prime examples were Canada’s disgraceful refusal to join the war in Iraq and some Liberal members of Parliament blasting away at the George W. Bush White House with hatred in their hearts.

To his credit, Mr. Harper has regained the trust of Canada’s greatest ally, friend and trading partner. Canada and the U.S. are separate countries with policy agreements and policy differences. Mr. Harper didn’t march in lock step with an ideological soul mate, President Bush, and he has built a solid working relationship with an ideological opponent, President Obama. This is something past Canadian prime ministers of Liberal and Conservative bents have done - and that’s exactly what this prime minister is doing.

Over the next four years, Canada-U.S. relations will continue to blossom. Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama will work toward a stronger and safer border. With Osama bin Laden’s death, the war against terrorism surely will be on the minds of both world leaders - meaning the safety and security of both nations will be a huge priority. Mr. Obama’s growing interest in Alberta’s oil sands also could be discussed more frequently, possibly leading to new economic opportunities for both countries.

Meanwhile, trade liberalization, possible military missions, taxes and duties, travel and hospitality, the Middle East and new free-market environmental reforms (including shale gas production and export) likely will be on the bargaining table.While Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama won’t see eye to eye on all these matters, they surely will work together to make sure relations remain both politically friendly and economically viable.

There is one area the U.S. should keep its eye on. For the first time, the New Democrats will serve as the official opposition. In many ways, the socialist alternative is a throwback to the old anti-Americanism, and some of its left-wing members would love to stir up trouble. In fact, it’s already happened: NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair recently said, “I don’t think from what I’ve heard that those [bin Laden] pictures exist.” While one hopes the opposition leader, Jack Layton, keeps his party’s members of Parliament under control, this could turn out to be a difficult task.

Even so, one thing is for sure. With a majority-Conservative government in place in Canada, strong political relations with the U.S. will be preserved - and the political left’s barking about American policy will be reduced to a carnival sideshow.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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