Conservatives win in Canada
Harper expected to move fast
By BRUCE CHEADLE
OTTAWA (CP) - The question that Liberals asked, so
ineffectually, during an eight-week election campaign
suddenly is now pertinent to every Canadian.
Change, yes. But change to what? Stephen Harper's
minority Conservative victory has swept the House of
Commons of 12 years of Liberal rule grown musty, but
how much more than a parliamentary real estate swap
has taken place?
Not as much as the more dire prognosticators would
have us believe, but probably more than many Canadians
"I wouldn't interpret it as a sea change in the
culture of the country," said Richard Johnston, a
political scientist at the University of British
"(But) putting the Conservatives in power does allow
them to start moving around certain policy levers,
which could recreate the culture, at least in some
Booting out Canada's longer-term residents of 24
Sussex Drive has traditionally been about settling old
accounts - at least as much as embracing some bold new
vision of the country.
How else to explain the surge in NDP fortunes, even as
the government was swinging to the right?
Quebec federalists appeared to move holus-bolus to the
Tories in the dying days of the campaign, yet few
analysts would put Quebeckers in Harper's libertarian
Harper may have won over Canadians with his
policy-a-day campaign platform, the better to define
himself before the Liberal mudslide. But Harper wisely
distilled his list of governing priorities to five key
"In an era of diminished expectations in the public
mind about governments, they don't want to be promised
everything," said Paul Thomas of the University of
"They want to be promised some things you'll
The Conservatives' avowed first order of business is a
government accountability act. A reduction in the GST,
and tougher crime legislation and support for the
police and military, are likely next up - elements of
the Tory platform that few in a minority Parliament
will be able to contest.
Goldy Hyder, a Conservative strategist, said the party
will publicly define its mandate and repeatedly remind
Canadians: "This is what we planned on doing. This is
what we're doing. And you agreed."
"You've got to say it again and again."
So what are these levers that might alter Canada's
The Tory accountability act also could have a
far-reaching impacts on how government and political
parties work. For example, if the Tories are actually
serious about reducing the patronage power of the
prime minister - an interesting question given the
boneyard of broken patronage promises throughout
Confederation - the power shift in Parliament will be
Cutting the GST means sharply reducing federal
revenues, and spending leverage.
Axing the Liberal national daycare plan in favour of
direct subsidies to parents is a philosophical shift
that a strong plurality of voters embraced, according
to exit polls Monday by Decima Research.
But active policy isn't the only government influence.
Passive changes, such as allowing provinces more
latitude in health delivery, can have fundamental
Johnston expects Harper to move fast.
"From the start, the Conservatives will be calculating
their advantages," said the B.C. academic.
"The history of minority governments - particularly
when the minority government is transitioning toward
majority - has been to go fairly quickly and hope that
whatever surprise value there was in their victory
starts loosening other connections."
If this change of government makes Canadians uneasy,
it would appear the electorate has once again managed
to find the solution.
The New Democrats have been boosted as a sharp
counter-point to the conservative shift.
And the minority Tory government should serve the
purposes of both skittish voters and the incoming
"It probably will help (being) in a minority
government situation," said Peter Aucoin, a professor
of public administration at Dalhousie University in
"It dampens expectations and keeps them more on
Just don't think that nothing's changed as a result of
- The trend of Canadian politics lags the US and the UK directions. This
is at least true in recent history (since the Cold War era).