Bush's Canadian Clone in Jeopardy
Date: Friday, January 19 2007
By Richard L. Fricker
January 18, 2007
The political decision by American voters on Nov. 7 – flushing away Republican control of the U.S. Congress – is reverberating north of the border where Canada’s hard-line Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper may become the next ally of George W. Bush to be washed away.
Harper, who modeled his aggressive brand of conservatism on what the Republicans had done in the United States, is struggling in the polls and confronting a reenergized Liberal opposition that was encouraged by the Democratic victory.
“You don’t have to be afraid of these guys anymore,” said Liberal Party spokesman Tait Simpson, summarizing the lesson learned from the American electorate’s rejection of the GOP’s tough-talking politics.
The Canadian Liberals, whose corruption scandals a couple of years ago paved the way for Harper’s victory in January 2006, selected a new leader, Stephane Dion, on Dec. 4 and are expected to challenge Harper’s shaky coalition as early as February.
The latest opinion surveys look grim for Harper. A pre-Christmas poll showed a surge in Liberal support, rising to slightly over 40 percent. Harper’s Conservatives stood at 33 percent with the Bloc Quebecois, the Greens and uncommitted dividing the remainder.
Dion has advocated what he calls “the three pillars” – the environment, social justice and the economy – as the policy structure for a Liberal victory. In announcing his new platform, Dion told Canadians that he was mobilizing his party toward a vote of no confidence against Harper, expected on a Bloc Quebecois measure in February.
Harper’s defeat in Canada would mean that yet another one of President Bush’s international compatriots would be out of a job. Among Bush’s key global allies, Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Aznar lost in 2004, Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi got the boot in 2006; and British Prime Minister Tony Blair has agreed to step down this year.
Canada’s rejection of Harper, known as “un clone de Bush,” also would be a blow to the already battered psyche of Republicans because Harper copied many of their strategies, even consulting with the architects of what was supposed to be a permanent Republican majority in the United States.
Now facing minority status in the U.S. Congress and finding their standard-bearer Bush with a public approval of only about 30 percent, the once-confident Republicans have found that their strategy of exploiting wedge issues and relying on aggressive media outlets to demonize opponents may have its limits.
An American Import
I first took note of the right-wing U.S. strategies that Harper was importing to Canada while visiting my wife’s relatives in Ontario last summer.
As an American journalist, I had always been struck by how ardently Canada’s political discourse focused on substance – the budget, health care, schools, roads – without the cheap theatrics and angry divisions common in the United States.
But suddenly I noticed that the tone of Canada had changed. There was a nastier edge to the commentary. There were not so subtle appeals to racism and xenophobia, references to Muslim neighborhoods in Quebec as “Quebecistan” and to Lebanese-Canadians as “Hezbocrats,” a play on the Muslim group Hezbollah.
It was as if a virus that had long infected the people south of the border had overnight jumped containment and spread northward establishing itself in a new host population. But – as I began to study this new phenomenon – it became clear that this infection did not just accidentally break quarantine.
Rather, it was willfully injected into the Canadian body politic by conservative strategists and right-wing media moguls who had studied the modern American model and were seeking to replicate it.
Harper even had brought in Republican advisers, such as political consultant Frank Luntz, to give pointers on how the Conservative Party could become as dominant in Canada as the GOP was in the United States.
Canada had its version of Rupert Murdoch and Fox News in the Asper brothers and their CanWest Global Communications Corp., which owns the National Post, the Montreal Gazette and nine other Canadian newspapers, 25 television outlets and two radio stations.
It was the Montreal Gazette and the National Post that trumpeted the phrase “Quebecistan” after demonstrators in Ottawa and Montreal protested Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon in summer 2006.
CanWest’s National Post even offered up a Canadian version of Ann Coulter in columnist Barbara Kay.
In one of Kay’s columns, she noted that 50,000 Lebanese-Canadians lived in Montreal and added, “We can expect those numbers to swell as Hezbollah-supporting residents of southern Lebanon cash in on their Canadian citizenship and flee to safety.”
Kay denounced Quebec as “the most anti-Israel of the provinces and therefore the most vulnerable to tolerance for Islamist terrorist sympathizers.”
“The word would go out to the Islamophere that Quebec was the Londonistan,” Kay wrote. “It won’t if our political class takes its cues from principled Stephen Harper rather than shameless Quebec politicians who led the pro-terrorist rally.”