|from the London Guardian
Canada's cold new dawn
Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper is our version of George W
Bush, minus the warmth and intellect
CANADA WOKE UP TO AN election shock this morning. It was a
self-inflicted jolt, and all the more painful for that. After three
minority governments in seven years – all following inconclusive,
forgettable elections that never gave the Conservatives the solid
majority they were sweating for – a man of the hard right named
Stephen Harper finally has his win.
He triumphed over Michael Ignatieff – known to the British as a fine
writer, historian and BBC talking head – who had returned to Canada to
lead the Liberals, often described as the country's traditional party
of government. Instead, Ignatieff got whacked, and the left-leaning
New Democratic party did very well indeed, astonishing even
themselves. To put this in British terms, the Liberals (New Labour)
were humiliated, the New Democrats (the Liberal Democrats) came in a
powerful second and a Canadian version of George W Bush, minus the
warmth and intellect, is now prime minister.
What happens now is the full-scale Americanisation of Canada, hinted
at over the past seven years by Harper – he fired people who talked
too loudly about this – but not acted upon because Canadians have
always valued their distinctiveness from the angry country in decline
south of the border.
It doesn't win votes to say you want to de-Canadianise Canada, long
known as a bastion of free healthcare, destination of refugees and
immigrants, and a place that worries about climate change. But Harper
once sneeringly referred to Canada as a typical northern European
"welfare state". He was born and raised in Toronto, but went to
university in Calgary, Alberta. He made his political base in this
western province, which has long felt sneered at: Harper has spent his
political career redressing the balance.
Harper's Conservatives will pass an omnibus law and order bill within
100 days to make jail sentences mandatory for many offences, and begin
building super-jails, copying a system that even its authors, the
Americans, have begun to abandon. The huge purchase of fighter jets
from Lockheed Martin, which was an election issue, will now go ahead –
Harper says it will cost $9bn, government auditors say $39bn – as will
massive military shipbuilding.
The Evangelist Christian right is at the heart of Harper's
Conservative party, and after years of being shushed, it will now
demand an end to a number of things, including abortion rights. Canada
has no law against abortions, and they are available free.
Corporate taxes will be cut almost immediately, Bush-style. Political
financing laws will change – parties now get money for each vote – but
this will end under the Conservatives, who will have a huge advantage
in terms of the amount they can solicit in corporate donations.
Harper himself is a famously strange man, and not in a mercurial way
like Gordon Brown. Humourless and awkward in gait, he was once
photographed shaking hands with one of his own children. This will be
on full display in the summer as William and Kate undertake their
first royal tour, of Canada. Harper has picked the dullest bits of the
country because they are the parts he doesn't hate. You will see the
royals in places where everyone goes to bed at 6:30. You will see
Harper's wife look glum while William and Kate smile gamely.
And what of Ignatieff's defeat? Canada comprises cities separated by
vast distances. It is a real achievement to lose the cities, and
Ignatieff managed it. Again we feel the influence of Bush: the modern
excoriation of intellect scared Ignatieff and he began droppin' his gs
and decrying all that was "partisan" – which is American for believing
The triumph of Harper's Conservatives is a revolution in Canada.
Grumpy old men are happy but modernists, women, young people,
immigrants, people fond of evidence-based policy will be much less so.
It's the beginning of a kind of war, conducted in a dull, quietly