- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Canadian Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau took his first congratulatory call from a foreign leader, President Obama, on Tuesday as the young Liberal Party leader and son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said a top priority of his majority would be to mend relations with the U.S. that were strained at times under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

It is just one sign of the striking shifts in policy and tone on the way in Ottawa. The 43-year-old Mr. Trudeau promised a major change in direction after nearly a decade of rule by Mr. Harper’s Conservatives.

“I want to say this to this country’s friends around the world: Many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years. Well, I have a simple message for you on behalf of 35 million Canadians. We’re back,” he told jubilant supporters a day after Monday’s surprisingly decisive vote. Canadians were still adjusting Tuesday to the stunning result, which restored the center-left Liberals to power after a decade in the political wilderness.

The relationship with Canada’s giant neighbor to the south loomed large in the calculations.

The White House offered a cautious welcome to the next prime minister, who is likely more in tune with Mr. Obama on issues such as climate change and economic stimulus but could pose tensions with Washington over his defense policies and his refusal so far to endorse the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Although relations with Mr. Harper, an outspoken advocate of the Keystone XL pipeline, were not always easy, Mr. Trudeau’s expressed intention to pull Canada out of the U.S.-led military coalition conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State group could be an early source of bilateral tension.

Canada, under Mr. Harper, “made an important contribution thus far, and we’re obviously deeply appreciative of them lending their talent and skill,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday. “We hope that we can continue to count on their ongoing support for this very important mission.”

Mr. Trudeau called for a change in the tenor of relations with the U.S. early in his campaign, stating that he would strengthen negotiations with the U.S. and form a partnership regardless of political differences.

“Canada’s relationship with the United States transcends partisanship,” Mr. Trudeau said in a speech in June, citing in particular Mr. Harper’s “antagonistic” approach on Keystone. Mr. Trudeau promised to improve relations by settling on a clean energy and environmental agreement for North America, smoothing trade across the border and establishing a Cabinet committee in charge of relations with the U.S.

The Canadian stock market and the Canadian dollar were up modestly in the wake of Monday’s vote. Analysts said there is cautious optimism that the Liberals’ government spending and infrastructure plans could give the struggling economy a short-term boost.

Climate cooperation

Canada is likely to work more closely with the Democratic administration on climate change, a top priority for Mr. Obama. Mr. Harper, whose political base was in Canada’s energy-rich western provinces, withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol’s emissions control program and was the focus of sharp criticism from environmental groups in the run-up to December’s global climate summit in Paris.

“Canada’s days of being a less-than-enthusiastic actor on the climate change file are behind us,” Mr. Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Although polls predicted a close race, it was almost immediately clear Monday evening that the Liberals were on their way to a major win. Holding just 34 seats in the 338-seat House of Commons after the disastrous 2011 vote, the Liberals under Mr. Trudeau captured 184 seats to 99 for Mr. Harper’s Conservatives. The leftist New Democratic Party under Thomas Mulcair, who led the polls when the election was first called in August, were swamped by Mr. Trudeau’s late surge, reduced to just 44 seats in the new Parliament.

Mr. Trudeau on Tuesday promised a major image overhaul from the Harper years, which were characterized by a more business-friendly tax and fiscal policy and by a more assertive, security-oriented presence on the world stage.

Besides a closer relationship between Ottawa and Washington, Mr. Trudeau has said he wants to legalize marijuana and boost abortion rights, sharply increase the number of refugees the country accepts, and use government deficit spending over the next few years to boost an economy rocked by lower oil and commodity prices that fell into a mild recession earlier this year.

Mr. Trudeau backs the Keystone project to transport western Canadian oil to U.S. markets, but has said he would not let the pipeline dominate the bilateral relationship.

Analysts said Mr. Trudeau’s win may mean a return to Canada’s more traditional foreign policy as a strong supporter of multilateralism.

“Trudeau will return Canada to its traditional approach in foreign affairs, which is characteristic of every single government but Harper’s,” Robert Bothwell, a professor at the University of Toronto, told The Associated Press. “Canada will go back to multilateralism, back to strong support for the United Nations.”

Mr. Harper took the blame for his party’s loss, falling short of his goal of becoming the first Canadian prime minister in more than a century to win four consecutive elections. He announced he would stay in Parliament but would step down as Conservative Party leader.

After congratulating Mr. Trudeau in a phone call, Mr. Harper told dejected supporters late Monday evening, “Know this for certain — when the next time comes, this party will offer Canadians a strong and clear alternative based on our conservative values.”

Ben Wolfgang contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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