Canada’s PM vows a steady course
No turn to right despite mandate for Conservatives
TORONTO — Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday that he will not shift to the hard right after his Conservatives won a long-sought majority in Canada’s Parliament.
Monday’s election marks a change in the country’s political landscape with opposition Liberals and Quebec separatists suffering a punishing defeat.
Harper said the Conservatives won their mandate because of the way they have governed so far and sought to allay fears he would implement a hidden right-wing agenda.
Harper, who took office in 2006, has won two elections but until Monday’s vote had never held a majority of Parliament’s 308 seats, forcing him to rely on the opposition to pass legislation.
Harper has deliberately avoided sweeping policy changes, but now has an opportunity to pass any legislation he wants with his new majority.
“We got that mandate because of the way we have governed, and Canadians expect us to continue to move forward in the same way,’’ said Harper, who has incrementally moved Canada to the right.
In past elections, Harper did not explicitly ask for a majority, to avoid raising fears among Canadians that they would implement a hidden right-wing agenda. Yesterday he sought to reassure the country of his commitment to public health care.
“I think we’ve made it very clear that we support Canada’s system of universal public health insurance,’’ Harper said after the Conservatives won 167 seats, which will give him four years of uninterrupted government.
While Harper’s hold on Parliament has been tenuous during his five-year tenure, he has managed to nudge an instinctively center-left country to the right, gradually lowering corporate and sales taxes, avoiding climate change legislation, and promoting Arctic sovereignty.
He has also increased military spending, extended Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan, and staunchly backed Israel’s right-wing government.
The White House said President Obama called Harper to congratulate him on his victory and said Obama wants to renew a commitment to improve security and trade along the border. Harper also congratulated Obama for his successful operation against Osama bin Laden.
Despite their political differences, Harper is said to get on better with Obama than he did with George W. Bush, possibly preferring the current US president’s cerebral style to his predecessor’s back-slapping Texas charm.
Harper appeared happier than ever yesterday.
“I obviously am feeling great,’’ said Harper, who joked that his staff forced him to take a swig from a champagne bottle after his big victory.
Meanwhile, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff announced he will step down from the post, following the party’s worst defeat in history. Ignatieff even lost his own seat in a Toronto suburb.
Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe also lost his own seat and immediately resigned after French-speaking voters in Quebec indicated they had grown weary with the separatist party, which had a shocking drop to four seats from 47 in the last Parliament.
Harper said he was disappointed the Conservatives did not benefit from the dramatic shift in votes in Quebec but was encouraged that the shift is toward federalism, and he took some credit for it.
“As a Canadian and a federalist, I am encouraged by the collapse of Bloc,’’ Harper said. “I believe that the way we’ve been managing the federation and our relations, our significant and important relations with Quebec, have made a big difference in bringing about that change for the benefit of the entire country and now the benefit of the NDP.’’
The leftist New Democratic Party went from one seat in Quebec to 58 and became the main opposition party, with 102 seats overall, tripling their overall support in a stunning setback for the Liberals who have always been either in power or leading the opposition.
The Liberals, who ruled Canada for much of the last century, dropped to 34 seats overall from 77 — finishing third for the first time in Canadian history.
The Conservatives had blitzed the country with TV ads targeting the Liberals’ leade.
The ads made relentless use of the more than 30 years Ignatieff lived in Europe and the United States. “Michael Ignatieff. Just visiting,’’ went one election ad. “Back in Canada. But for how long?’’ mocked another.
Ignatieff said the Conservatives engaged in a “absolutely unscrupulous campaign of personal attack’’ but insisted he is not going out a sore loser.