Canada’s Conservatives, led by Stephen Harper, walked away with a narrow win in Monday’s elections (Globe and Mail), defeating the moribund Paul Martin administration and ending thirteen years of Liberal Party rule. Harper’s Conservative Party won 124 seats in Parliament—still short of the 155 needed to win a majority—and will likely face a divided House of Commons (Canadian Press). Harper ran a disciplined campaign focusing on specific policy proposals: making government more accountable, lowering sales tax, cutting crime rates, and improving healthcare (BBC)—and thawing icy relations with Washington.
A Conservative win could improve Canada’s on-again, off-again relationship with the United States (NYT). Ties between Washington and Ottawa have been strained (Bloomberg) over a longstanding softwood-lumber trade dispute and the Liberal government’s refusal to back President Bush on the war in Iraq or on a shared missile defense system (WashPost). Harper has said he would reconsider the ballistic missile scheme (AP). He has also said he plans to increase the country’s defense spending, expand its peacekeeping missions, and tighten border security to deter terrorists from crossing. These reforms are so Ottawa can “make foreign policy decisions that are not only independent but are actually noticed by other powers around the world” (Reuters).
The Ottawa Citizen says voters have given Harper a mandate to transform and restore faith in Canada’s government, while the Toronto Star, whose home town voted Liberal, says a Conservative-led minority government will give the bedraggled Liberals time “to rethink their leadership and vision.” A CFR Task Force report, “Building a North American Community,” offers suggestions for increasing security cooperation among the Canadian, U.S., and Mexican governments.