The Conservatives took 36 percent of the popular vote nationally, compared with 30 percent for the Liberals, 17 percent for the NDP and 10 percent for the Bloc Quebecois. Altogether, 64.9 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, four percent higher than the election two years ago.
"We will honor your trust, we will deliver on our commitments," Harper told a crowd of cheering supporters in Calgary. He also made references to the origins of the Reform Party and its message of "The West Wants In," where he once worked as a party strategist and organizer in the early days of the party before its merger with the Conservatives.
Even with a minority, Harper said he had a mandate to pursue key areas of his platform, including a federal accountability act to clean up government, cuts in the Goods and Services Tax (GST), tougher anti-crime measures, expansion of privatized childcare and reduced wait times for medical care.
He was criticized during the campaign on the question of whether he could manage to keep in check the social conservative wing of the party, which wants to resurrect hot button issues such as abortion and restrictions on stem-cell research.
Rudyard Griffiths of the Toronto-based Dominion Institute, which promotes Canadian history and citizenship, told IPS, "Harper will probably have to govern from the center."
"Issues such as the Supreme Court decision calling for medical services within a reasonable time limit will lead to privatization of Medicare issues in Quebec. With a surplus, he will probably govern as a Rockefeller Republican. Alberta is so awash in petrodollars, they may opt out of the Canada Health Act and proceed with a two-tier system," he said.
"With a strong Canadian economy for the last decade or more, Harper will probably walk softly and carry a big bag of money. There will be cuts to the GST and other tax relief. Coalitions will probably happen on a legislation-by-legislation basis. This is a true pizza parliament."
Liberal leader Paul Martin said he would step down, setting the stage for a power struggle in the party. The Liberals, who had been tainted by scandals like an advertising kickback scheme that led to severe criticism from the Gomery Inquiry, seemed to fall victim to the desire for change after 12 years in government.
In his concession speech, Martin said, "We acted on the belief that Canada is strongest as a nation when we endeavour to ensure that no Canadian is ever left behind."
During the bitterly contested campaign, Harper was painted as a fiscal and social conservative with ties to the U.S. right-wing. Harper countered by softening the image of the party as one that represented middle class Canada and had successful campaign moments -- such as shopping at Toys-R-Us prior to Christmas with his family.
Martin was hammered by all parties throughout the campaign. In the key battleground province of Ontario, the Liberals' percentage of the popular vote was down five percentage points. In that province, the Liberals lost 19 seats, mostly to the Conservatives.
In Alberta, the Conservatives won every seat. The NDP made gains in British Columbia and Ontario.
Griffiths added, "There is still a high anti-George Bush feeling in the country and those who distrust American motives in Iraq may blame a Canadian Conservative government for being perceived as subsiding war in Iraq to the degree to which this (Afghanistan) mission is freeing up American resources."
"A newly minted Conservative government runs a higher risk of criticism as being pro-American if Canadian casualties increase in Afghanistan," he noted.
Dr. Michael Byers, the Canadian Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia-based Liu Institute, believes that, "This will not be a stable government -- there are no natural allies for this Conservative government."
"It will not survive long so there will be little impact on foreign policy since it is usually long-term policy. There will be no dramatic shift except for somewhat better relations with the Bush White House, since the Conservatives are ideologically closer than the Liberals were," he said.
"With a minority government, the Conservatives will be unable to move on issues such as missile defense. Even though they would like to join (the U.S. defense program), the three opposition parties are opposed to it and it would invoke the hostility of Parliament."
He added, "There will be little shift in Afghanistan as the Liberals were supportive of sending 2,000 troops for a counter-insurgency operation. Another area such as the Kyoto Protocol will remain in place even though Harper would want to withdraw Canada from the pact. We essentially have a right-wing prime minister whose hands are tied by the configuration of Parliament."
Harper has also promised a free parliamentary vote on the issue of same-sex marriage, and may advance the privatization of the healthcare system at the provincial level.
Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council for Canadians, which supports Canadian independence through the advancement of progressive social policy, said, "We were really worried about a possible Conservative majority, so the result was actually a relief."
"(Harper) feels comfortable with the Bush agenda and ideology. He is connected to conservative American organizations such as the Council for National Policy and those with an evangelical conservative agenda such as Focus on the Family. That is why he muzzled his MPs during the campaign."
She added that although the Conservatives won the most seats, they will have a weak minority government.
"If he turns to cuts to social programs, he will be unlikely get support from any of the other parties. If there is a shift of services to the provinces, there may also be cuts. If we lose our ribbons of interdependence articulated by programs like healthcare, we lose one of the ties that bind."
"We would see it as a nail in the coffin of Canada to see a merging of social structures with the U.S.," she said.
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January 26, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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