Voter's final word is wise, cautious
Date: Wednesday, January 25 2006
Jan. 24, 2006. 05:40 AM
JAMES TRAVERS, Toronto Star
NATIONAL AFFAIRS COLUMNIST
Ottawa - Change, yes, but not too much change.
In their collective wisdom, voters struck a cautious balance between determination to separate Liberals from power and concerns about what Conservatives would do with it. The result is a surprisingly weak Stephen Harper Conservative minority government with an uncertain future.
Canadians streamed to the polls on an unusually mild winter day first to toss out tired and tainted Liberals and then to impose onerous conditions on Conservatives and their 46-year-old leader. They gave Liberals and the resurgent NDP the strength to defeat this minority, a dynamic that makes the Bloc Québécois the wildcard and should make Canadians breathe easier about any real or imagined neo-conservative threat to social values.
Far less than the majority Harper hoped for at the highest point of a textbook campaign, but more seats than the party anticipated in November when Paul Martin's minority government fell, Conservatives now barely have what they asked for: An opportunity to prove that a narrow, regionally rooted Reform movement that struggled to life in 1987 is finally ready to rule in the broad national interest.
Harper's chance flows directly from a significant power shift. His campaign recaptured the Progressive Conservative vote that drifted to Martin in 2004, it solidified support among ex-urbanites living in the expanding rings around big cities and made a spectacular breakthrough in Quebec popular vote to re-establish Conservatives as a viable federalist alternative.
To put Harper's achievement in perspective, in short order he united the right, dragged his party towards the centre and forced Martin's resignation. Now he must demonstrate that a remarkable success and learning curve will continue to rocket upwards.
Can that be good for Canada? Absolutely. More than this capital's entitlement culture is overdue for an overhaul. A country too long governed from the centre and too consumed by the single, if understandably singular, national unity issue will now be exposed to the very different perspective of the first prime minister since Joe Clark to be considered by the West as one of its own.
Reviving Brian Mulroney's successful formula, the West and Quebec are both "in" and today there are domestic and international options that didn't exist yesterday. Within the tight restrictions of minority government, Conservatives will now be able to test the national appetence for more individualistic solutions to social policy problems. And after Martin's reckless campaign tilting at the U.S., Harper is far more favourably positioned to restore common sense and statesmanship to Canada's sustaining foreign relationship.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on January 26, 2006]