Canada appears ready to turn to the right in upcoming national elections
Sunday, January 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM
Canada appears ready to turn to the right in upcoming
By Doug Struck
The Washington Post
BURLINGTON, Ontario Rob Hlohinec, 58, doesn't see
what's so bad about Americans. He even admits to
"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
Martin sought to corral that sentiment by portraying
Harper as dangerously pro-American. But the strategy
appeared to backfire, exacerbating Martin's slide in
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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.