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Canada's conservative revolution


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Illustration by Abbey Golden
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
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In the past week, two very important elections took place in the world. One was in the Middle East, where Hamas was elected to a majority in the Palestinian territories. The other was much less visible, but equally - if not more - important to the U.S.

Canada, our frigid northern neighbor, recently re-elected its 308-member Parliament, which in turn selects a new prime minister. Because of the nature of the selection process, Canadians generally vote according to party affiliation, since the plurality party determines the prime minister.

After numerous scandals within the Liberal Party, Canadians were apparently ready for change: After the general election Jan. 23, the Conservative Party regained control of Parliament after 13 years of Liberal control.

Among the campaign promises of Prime Minister-designate Stephen Harper were a national sales-tax reduction, better funding for the Canadian military, a more secure Canada-U.S. border, more autonomy for the 13 provinces and territories and better relations with the American government. While some of you may be mulling over whether Canada even has a military, others may have noticed that last promise.

The fact that Harper is pro-Bush and supports the war in Iraq makes his election fairly shocking, as Canada is rarely one to agree with American Republican presidents. In fact, that combined with Harper's extreme right-of-center views on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage cost him many votes.

But Canada cannot ignore the fact that relations with America are important to both countries. In fact, the U.S. and Canada do $1.8 billion in business every day. Many companies, such as BlackBerry and LifeSavers, base their operations there. Canada is one of "The Big Eight," meaning that it is among the eight largest industrialized nations in the world.

However, Canada is also a country caught between cultures. Language clashes plague the country from within; solidifying Canadian sovereignty continues to be an issue internationally. Many simply consider Canada a slave to Great Britain or the U.S. Because of that reputation, there has recently been a surge of nationalistic pride in Canada.

For that reason, allying the Canadian government too much with the U.S. would be political suicide if Harper wants to be re-elected next term.

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Janne Perona
columnist

"He can try to improve relations with the Americans, but as long as Bush is president, it is politically toxic for a Canadian leader to be seen as being buddy-buddy with him," said Richard Gwyn, a political columnist for the Toronto Star. "(Harper) is going to be quite limited."

The numbers themselves also show how constrained Harper will be. Because there are four parties in Canada - Conservative, Liberal, New Democrat and Bloc Quebecois - the plurality that Harper's party holds is only around 30 percent.

"It's a very slim mandate, and the party that is holding power is holding it by a thread," Pierre Martin, a political scientist at the University of Montreal, told The New York Times.

But the numbers haven't held back the new prime minister. Not even a week after being elected, he was already stirring up turmoil with America by effectively telling the rest of Canada, "I will protect Canada from anyone, even the U.S."

Canada once again asserted sovereignty over what are known as the Northwest Passages, the waterways near the North Pole. The U.S. and E.U. have questioned this sovereignty for decades, holding that the passages are international waters and cannot be claimed by a nation.

"It is the Canadian people we get our mandate from, not the ambassador of the United States," Harper said. "The United States defends its sovereignty, and the Canadian government will defend our sovereignty."

Harper is making it known that he will not be pushed around. While he may agree with President Bush on several key policy issues, he will not be told what to do. It is clear that although Harper is Conservative, he is first and foremost Canadian. And that is exactly what Canada needs.

This shift to the right is a dramatic change for Canada. Some would say that Harper's election is a step away from the progressive move of Canada's previous governments to distance itself from the "American image." Others would say it is a step in the right direction after years of Liberal corruption and scandal. The Quebecois would probably just retain their "Vive le Quebec!" stand on, well, everything.

It is quite apparent that the election of the Conservative Party, though seemingly contrary to the fundamental beliefs of a majority of Canadians, will change the course of Canadian politics. The question is, what will that change in direction mean for the U.S. - and really, for Canada? Only time will tell.

Janne Perona is a criminal justice administration sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.



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