Unsettling Canada.

Author:de Souza, Raymond J.

For Canada's social conservatives, the recent federal election offered cause for encouragement, cause for anxiety, and cause for alarm. That one election could produce such unsettled and unsettling results is evidence of what a tumultuous year it has been in Canadian politics.

Since 1993, the Liberal Party of Canada has dominated the federal scene, winning large majority governments in 1993, 1997, and 2000. Liberal dominance under Prime Minister Jean Chr6tien was owing to several factors: Chr6tien's personal popularity, a prosperous economy, record budgetary surpluses, and an opposition that was fractured between two political parties on the center-right--the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives. The former was a new, self-consciously conservative party with a strong base in western Canada. The latter was the rump of a one-hundred-fifty-year-old party that had given Canada prime ministers such as Sir John A. MacDonald and Brian Mulroney but that had been reduced to a shrinking base in Atlantic Canada. It was decidedly more progressive than conservative.

With the continued failure of efforts to "unite the fight" and with the replacement of Jean Chretien by the even more popular Paul Martin, formerly finance minister, it was thought as recently as a year ago that the Liberals would take another majority in the next election and perhaps would even take more than two hundred out of 308 seats.

Instead, on June 28, 2004, Paul Martin managed to squeeze out only a minority government, claiming just 135 seats--a significant setback. The Liberals will now have to rely on the votes of one or more of the other parties to pass any legislation. But they were relieved to have survived in power at all. What happened between the summers of 2003 and 2004?

One important development was the unification of the fight. Through skillful diplomacy, Stephen Harper, the leader of the Canadian Alliance, managed to pull off a merger of his party with the Progressive Conservative remnants to create, in December 2003, a new "Conservative Party" (the "Progressive" part of the old name being cast aside). In March 2004, Mr. Harper won the leadership of this new party, which offered Canadians a leader who was unapologetically conservative on fiscal and economic issues, committed to a more pro-American foreign policy, and open to social conservatism--he was against same-sex marriage and amenable to a debate about trimming Canada's unlimited abortion license.


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