- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2006

For the United States, Canada’s election results are a relief for one reason: They are the definitive repudiation of Prime Minister Paul Martin’s scandal-ridden government. His Liberal Party, which turned in its second-worst performance since Canada’s independence in 1867, now hands the reins over to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

The Conservatives, slated to form their first government in 12 years, took only 124 seats, well below the 155 needed for a majority, so this will be a minority government. Mr. Harper will need to look to either the outgoing Liberals (103 seats) or the Bloc Quebecois (51 seats) for support or else face the certain failure of an agenda which proposes to cut consumption taxes, balance the budget, shorten waiting times for health-care visits and improve upon the Martin government’s lamentably poor relations with the United States. Even with the opposition’s support, Mr. Harper’s government faces the same constraints as previous minority governments, including his predecessor’s: Rarely do minority government in Canada last more than a year and a half (Mr. Martin’s lasted 17 months). Clearly, the elections did not deliver a grand conservative mandate.

The best news is that Mr. Martin’s exit opens doors for more neighborly and more grown-up relations. Mr. Martin is the prime minister who scotched Canadian participation in missile defense last February after falsely suggesting just a few months earlier that Canada would join. Mr. Martin happily employed anti-Americanism to whip up support in previous elections and leaked strategically to the Canadian press in service of those ends. These are two of the unenviable traits that undermined productive relations with the United States. The revelation of a number of scandals certainly didn’t help, and were the reason voters came to regard his government as corrupt and incompetent.

We wouldn’t hazard any predictions of progress on the many unresolved issues in U.S.-Canadian relations, which include ongoing trade disputes over lumber and cattle, the missile-defense question and, in the coming years, a number of energy questions surrounding the possible construction of a pipeline from Alaska and issues pertaining to the exploitation of the tar sands. Mr. Harper vows efforts to make Canada “more united, stronger, more prosperous and a safer country,” all goals we obviously support. But it’s unclear how much power he will have to accomplish all this. The only sure positive is that the shrill anti-Americanism and the crescendo of Canada-pillorying from the United States should diminish in the coming months as the new government takes form.

In the meantime, Canada will get to see what a Conservative government, albeit a limited one, and one that is not really analogous to our Republican Party, can accomplish.

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