Sunday, January 29, 2006

On Tuesday, the political landscape in Canada shifted to the right. The Conservatives won 124 out of 308 seats in the federal election, and will form a minority government.Thatbrought roughly 13 years of Liberal government to an end, a period that has seen an increase in judicial activism, coddling criminals, lax marriage and drug laws, and inadequate security of our borders.

This result is exciting news for Canadian conservatives, since they’ve been out of power on the national scene since 1993. It should also please Americans, too. Canada’s new prime minister, Stephen Harper, will work towards improving relations with the United States that have soured as of late.

Mr. Harper is a unique figure in Canadian politics. He is a 46-year-old Toronto-born economist who has spent most of his adult life in Calgary. He is intelligent, articulate and well-read on politics, history, and, of course, economics. He is a great supporter of small “c” conservatism, individual liberty, freedom of speech and increased citizen participation.

I’ve known Mr. Harper for about 10 years. I would describe him as a solid fiscal conservative and moderate social conservative. He enjoys discussing political ideas, but understands the need to balance his own principles with other people’s principles. By doing so, he created an intelligent and thought-provoking conservative political platform that resonated with voters in liberal Canada.

Yet, when this federal election campaign started about eight weeks ago, the conventional wisdom was that another Liberal government was a safe bet. Similar to President Bush, Mr. Harper was unfairly depicted as “scary” and an “extremist.” Moreover, the ridiculous concept that the Conservatives had a “hidden agenda” to outlaw abortion, oppose gay marriage as being unnatural and lead Canada into a war or international incident had prevailed for some time.

None of it was true. The Conservatives don’t have an official party position on abortion. They support a free vote on same-sex marriage to let politicians, the peoples’ representatives, decide this issue instead of the unelected, politically biased Supreme Court of Canada. And as Mr. Harper wrote in a Dec. 12, 2005 letter in The Washington Times, “…while I support the removal of Saddam Hussein and applaud the efforts to establish democracy and freedom in Iraq, I would not commit Canadian troops to that country.” But early on, Prime Minister Paul Martin and the Liberals were able to convince Canadians this was true, and liberal media types eagerly helped spread the word. In politics, perception is nine-tenths of the law; political reality is lucky to get the remaining one-tenth.

Things changed, however. Two years ago, it was revealed that the Liberals were involved in a financial scandal involving Quebec-based ad companies. Most of this happened during Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s three terms in office (1993-2004), but Mr. Martin, as the sitting prime minister, was affected by it. Although he survived the 2004 federal election with a minority government, two more scandals broke during this federal election. There was nowhere for Mr. Martin to hide this time.

So, Canadians began to turn to the Conservatives. Much to their surprise, Mr. Harper wasn’t so scary after all. In fact, he had a moderate political platform designed to lower taxes, fight crime, protect our borders, provide incentives for investment and improve health-care services. These were issues that resonated with Canadian voters, and some of them opted to park their vote for a change in government.

For the United States, this change will also lead to friendlier relations with Canada. In past years, the Liberals have successfully used anti-Americanism as a political tool. Here are some examples: Mr. Martin refused to help build a missile defense shield to protect North American borders; he criticized the White House for its refusal to sign the flawed Kyoto Accord; he blasted the Bush administration — at the Economic Club of New York, no less — for its reaction to the NAFTA panel’s ruling in favor of Canada in the softwood lumber dispute; he blamed the rise of illegal weapons in Canada on, you guessed it, the United States.

Mr. Harper, unlike Mr. Martin, respects the United States. He is concerned about many of the same things as Americans, including growing crime levels, terrorism, border security and drug trafficking.

This does not mean Mr. Harper won’t stand up for Canadian interests. He will support fair-trade legislation for Canada, and seems willing to explore other trade deals with India, Japan and China if things cannot be resolved. But Mr. Harper will negotiate with the United States as a friend, not a foe. And that’s far more than the Liberals have offered for years.

Stephen Harper is an independent thinker, but he would like to see stronger and healthier Canada-U.S. relations. That’s why Americans should rejoice in the crowning of Canada’s new, dynamic prime minister.

Michael Taube is a public affairs analyst, commentator and columnist based in Toronto.

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