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1398Canada appears ready to turn to the right in upcoming national elections

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  • Greg Cannon
    Jan 22, 2006
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      http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2002754645_canada22.html

      Sunday, January 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

      Canada appears ready to turn to the right in upcoming
      national elections

      By Doug Struck

      The Washington Post

      BURLINGTON, Ontario — Rob Hlohinec, 58, doesn't see
      what's so bad about Americans. He even admits to
      knowing some.

      "I've talked to Americans. They want the same things
      we want," Hlohinec said as he watched a Conservative
      Party campaign rally.

      At his side, Irene Heller, 82, agreed. She said that
      was one reason she would vote to replace the
      government headed by the Liberal Party's Paul Martin
      in Canadian national elections on Monday. Martin, she
      said, uses anti-Americanism to try to win votes.

      "He gets votes when he knocks America, and I don't
      approve of that," said Heller, who braved a sleet
      storm to attend the rally.

      Conservative leader Stephen Harper holds a strong lead
      in public-opinion polls, fueled largely by
      dissatisfaction with 12 years of Liberal rule. Among
      the dissatisfied are voters unhappy with the growing
      divide between Canada and the United States.

      Polls show a deep antipathy among Canadians toward the
      Bush administration, made more acute by the invasion
      and occupation of Iraq. That has carried over to a
      more general anti-Americanism, and the country's
      academics have made a cottage industry of talking
      about the divergence of values between Canadians and
      Americans.

      Martin sought to corral that sentiment by portraying
      Harper as dangerously pro-American. But the strategy
      appeared to backfire, exacerbating Martin's slide in
      the polls.

      "In the last campaign, those attack ads worked. This
      time they won't. People are just fed up," said Peter
      Bryce, 46, a financial manager who said the political
      rally in this town west of Toronto was the first he
      had attended.

      The Conservative Party's lead in the polls hovers at
      about 10 percentage points, putting the party in
      position to lead a coalition government that probably
      would be more in tune with the Bush administration.

      The Cato Institute, a libertarian Washington, D.C.,
      research group, has described Harper as "pro-Iraqi
      war, anti-Kyoto, socially conservative ... [President]
      Bush's new best friend."

      The Liberal Party's attack on Harper's American
      sympathies was mostly political posturing; Martin has
      sought good relations with the United States, but his
      party has a mixed history on the issue. The prime
      minister had to expel one Parliament member who
      stomped on a Bush doll on television, and a
      spokeswoman for his Liberal Party predecessor, Jean
      Chretien, referred to the U.S. president as a "moron."

      The Liberals successfully erased Harper's lead in the
      polls in the 2004 election by painting him as too
      pro-American. But this time, some Canadians say they
      feel the anti-Americanism has gone too far.

      "You would think that issue would be more fertile
      ground because there has been an erosion" in the
      relationship between Canadians and Americans since
      2004, said Frank Graves, president of Ekos, an Ottawa
      polling company. "Both countries look at each other
      with less regard than before."

      But surprisingly, Graves said, "the America card
      doesn't seem to have had much traction this time."

      "We think it's wrong. We're not against Americans,"
      said Linda Armstrong, 60, who attended the Burlington
      rally with her husband, Mike, 61, like her a retired
      schoolteacher.

      But it's not as if Harper is wrapping himself in the
      Stars and Stripes. With an eye to the perpetual
      Canadian ambivalence toward its powerful neighbor,
      Harper has maintained a distance from the United
      States on the campaign trail.

      His standard campaign stump speech vows "not to engage
      with allies in a false war of words." But he follows
      that quickly with pledges to be tougher on the United
      States in disputes such as the one over softwood
      lumber, where the U.S. refusal to abide by
      international rulings that its tariffs are illegal has
      infuriated Canadians.

      "As a rough approximation, one-third of Canadians are
      favorably predisposed to the United States, one-third
      are knee-jerk opposed to the U.S., and the remaining
      third can go either way, depending on the issues,"
      said David Welch, an expert on U.S.-Canadian relations
      at the University of Toronto.

      Harper, 46, treads carefully around those issues. He
      rarely mentions foreign policy and has crafted a
      campaign relentlessly focused on domestic-policy
      matters. If he heads the next government, though, "you
      would get a dramatic improvement in the tone: He would
      be generally friendly to the Bush administration,"
      Welch said. "Would you see a whole lot of difference
      in substance? Probably not."

      In his party's platform and in his campaign speeches,
      Harper has differed only vaguely with the Liberals on
      Canadian-U.S. relations. The Conservative platform
      calls for increasing spending on the military, for
      example, a move that would please the Bush
      administration. Yet the Liberals already have boosted
      military spending.

      Harper has criticized the Liberal government's refusal
      to join the U.S. invasion of Iraq but has said Canada
      has no troops to spare for the occupation. Canada has
      650 troops in Afghanistan and plans to boost that
      number to 2,000 next month.

      The Conservatives have promised to cooperate with
      Washington on border-security issues, although that,
      too, is a direction already set by the Liberal
      government. Harper has hinted he would revisit the
      government's decision not to join the Americans in
      planning a missile-defense system, but it is unclear
      if he would have parliamentary support. Martin
      privately had wanted to join the initiative but lacked
      political support for the move.

      On social issues, however, "there is much more common
      ground" between Harper and Bush than between the U.S.
      president and Martin, Welch said, citing their shared
      opposition to same-sex marriage.

      Martin, 67, attempting to reverse his party's slide in
      the polls, is campaigning hard on social issues,
      warning that Harper would try to overturn Canada's
      approval of gay-marriage and abortion rights and to
      redirect its social liberalism.

      Harper's agenda follows "the extreme right of the
      United States," the prime minister said Thursday. He
      seized last week on Harper's criticism of judicial
      activism, warning that the Conservatives would try to
      circumvent the courts. Helping Martin, the attorney
      general of Ontario, Michael Bryant, accused Harper of
      wanting to "Americanize our judiciary."

      Harper has clung to a campaign strategy downplaying
      those views and painting his candidacy as a more
      centrist, moderate one. He has declined to discuss his
      views on abortion rights, for example, and ignored the
      increasingly strident Liberal effort to portray him as
      a neoconservative.

      "I think what I've tried to lay out to the Canadian
      people is that we would take a middle-road approach,"
      Harper told the Toronto Star. His government would
      focus on fiscal issues and on his pledge to transfer
      more powers to the provinces, he said.


      Canada's parliamentary elections

      When: Monday.

      Where: The world's second-largest country with a land
      mass of 3.85 million square miles, stretching across
      six time zones.

      Who: About 22.5 million people in a country of 32.4
      million are eligible to vote.

      Why: The Liberal Party, with 133 seats in the 308-seat
      House of Commons, has been in power 12 years. The
      Liberals won majority victories in 1993, 1997 and
      2000, helped by vote-splitting between two right-wing
      opposition parties. In December 2003, those parties
      merged into the Conservative Party, which has 98
      seats. In June 2004, the Liberals lost their majority
      amid public anger over a patronage scandal and were
      forced to rely on the left-leaning New Democratic
      Party, with 18 seats, for support. The wild card is
      the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which has 53 seats.
      There are four independents and two vacant seats.

      Source: Reuters