Canadians elect conservative leader


Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 9:19 p.m.
OTTAWA - Strained relations between the world's largest trading partners were expected to improve after the election of Conservative leader Stephen Harper as Canada's next prime minister.
But while his ideology runs parallel to that of the Bush administration, Harper failed to win a majority and will be constrained by the need for an alliance, which could limit his ability to move Canada to the right.
The 46-year-old economist, who arrived in Ottawa from his constituency in Calgary, Alberta, on Tuesday, briefly addressed supporters at the airport. He canceled a press conference and said he would hold one Thursday instead.
"We had a good sleep, we're all excited and we're all feeling pretty upbeat, as you can imagine ... to start rebuilding this great country of ours," Harper said, with his wife, Laureen Teskey, and young son and daughter at his side.
Harper's victory in Monday's election, which ended nearly 13 years of Liberal Party rule, was seen as a backlash against corruption scandals and a mandate to cut taxes and be tougher on crime and security.
Many traditionally liberal Canadians would balk at any attempts to overturn rights to abortion and gay marriage, or to touch the universal health care system, a hallmark of national pride.
New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton vowed to keep the Tories in check, hailing his left-of-center party's gains as a victory for "ordinary Canadians." The party saw its representation in parliament go from 18 to 29 seats.
"While Canadians asked Stephen Harper to form a minority government, they also asked the NDP to balance that government," he told cheering supporters in Toronto.
The Conservatives won 124 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, the Liberals got 103, the Bloc Quebecois 51 and one seat went to an Independent.
Outgoing Prime Minister Paul Martin stunned supporters Monday night by announcing he would immediately step down from the post and give up party leadership, though he will remain in Parliament.
"The Liberal Party will rebuild. We're going into this with a spirit of cooperation to find solutions for Canadians," Steve MacKinnon, national director of the Liberal Party, told The Associated Press shortly after Martin's defeat. "The job of Mr. Harper now will be to find a compromise."
The Conservatives' victory is good news for U.S.-Canadian relations, which have been chilly under the Liberals.
The White House congratulated Harper, who will be sworn in within the next two weeks. "We look forward to strengthening our relations and working with the new government," spokesman Scott McClellan said.
Martin's predecessor, Jean Chretien, declined to send troops to Iraq, then publicly condemned the U.S.-led invasion, as did many Canadians. Martin later rejected President Bush's offer to work with Washington on a continental missile defense shield and has criticized the U.S. over punitive trade tariffs and for rejecting the Kyoto Protocol to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Harper has said Ottawa should have expressed greater moral support to Washington in its war on terror, although he also stressed Canada did not have the capability to send troops to Iraq.
He also wants to revisit the missile shield, move beyond the Kyoto debate and provide $5 billion more to overhaul Canada's military and expand peacekeeping operations, while pledging to be aggressive in demanding that Washington respect the North American Free Trade Act.
University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman said Harper's victory would provide "symbolic support" for the Bush administration.
"His relationship with Canada is concerned both with the American posture in the world and whether he's got sympathizers and allies - and in all those respects the Conservative reflex, the Harper reflex is pro-American," Wiseman said.
Harper's victory also was welcomed by U.S. conservative groups.
"We are glad to see that Canadians have values-voters too," said Bob Morrison of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based group opposed to abortion and gay marriage. "We can be optimistic about the end of the social engineering as driven by the Martin government."
Though he's opposed to abortion, Harper has said his party would not propose legislation to overturn it, though he may give Parliament another vote on same-sex marriage.

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