Canada's Midterm Blues: The Harper Government Hits Rocks
By David T. Jones, former Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa
Reviewed by James L. Abrahamson
That alarming headline suggests Canada’s Tory party might lose its hold on power when it next faces the voters. In a lengthy essay, Minister Jones assesses the issues that trouble the government of Prime Minister Harper.
The first political threat is a corruption scandal involving several Tory senators whose unjustified claims for expenses led to the resignation of Harper’s chief of staff, who had approved the payments. Other political developments also threaten the Tory’s future: Growing tension between the Tory party’s traditional Progressive Conservatives with their business orientation and western members of the Reform party demanding more attention to social and cultural issues; a Tory backbench eruption over disclosure of the high salaries of public servants; emergence of more effective leadership within the opposition New Democratic and Liberal parties. Approval of an EU free trade agreement and construction of the Keystone XL pipeline would help the Tories draw public attention away from the troubling partisan issues.
The military budget poses another sort of problem. Canadian ground forces have never been better and now operate with U.S. forces on an equal basis. Maintaining that relationship and strengthening Canada’s air force and navy require purchase of expensive new equipment—tanks, armored vehicles, Artic-capable icebreakers, replacement of overage destroyers, new supply-support ships, and the “stealthy” F-35 fighter—and resolving whether Canada will participate in the U.S. ballistic missile defense project. Funding those purchases would put at risk Tory hopes of balancing the budget by 2015, in time for the next elections.
The issue of Quebec’s independence from the rest of Canada and on-going harassment of the French province’s Anglophone residents might also re-emerge before Canadians next go to the polls. Relations with the U.S., on the other hand, should proceed smoothly—and help keep the Tories in power—so long as President Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline. Despite “clouds on the horizon, Jones sees no need for the U.S. “to view with alarm” developments in Canada and Quebec. Facts on the ground are not nearly so threatening as suggested by the title he assigned his essay.