Today is Election Day in Canada, and all the polls show that change is on the way. The Liberal Party's 12-year reign is finally coming to an end. The Conservatives, led by Stephen Harper, look poised to form the next government.
It's possible, though not likely, that the Conservatives will win an outright majority in Parliament. But even if they don't, and need to form a coalition government, they will have more of a chance to move an agenda than one would expect. As a political consultant explained to me in Washington a few months ago before heading north to work for the Conservatives, the leaders of the Tories' prospective coalition partner, the separatist Bloc Quebecois, are willing to give Harper several years of rule (but expect lots of Tory reforms to exempt Quebec). The Conservative victory will be a real one, and not just for Harper and his party but for Canada, for North America, and for the world.
For Canada, it will mean the end of rule by crooks. In April, I covered the explosive revelations, leaked to an American blog, in the testimony of ad agency president Jean Brault. The New York Times covered the story the next day, and the publishing ban was lifted on most of Brault's testimony by the afternoon. Just when it looked like the Grits (as the Liberals are nicknamed) would weather the story -- they were comfortably ahead in the polls in November -- Canada's financial regulators opened a criminal investigation of Ralph Goodale, the sitting Minister of Finance.
Suspicions were raised by a flurry of trading in dividend-paying stocks shortly before Goodale announced a cut in dividend taxation. While it's not at all clear that Goodale did anything wrong, the insider trading allegations reminded voters of the ruling party's general corruption; the polls quickly turned against the Liberals. Even the usually left-leaning Toronto Globe & Mail has endorsed the Conservatives, as has the leading French-language paper La Presse.
For North America, it will mean a much friendlier partnership between the U.S. and Canada. Prime Minister Paul Martin has hitched his political wagon to shameless Yankee-bashing this campaign, accusing Harper of being a Washington puppet and vowing to "make sure that Canada speaks with an independent voice now, tomorrow, and always." In a country that defines itself largely by its differences from the U.S., it seemed like a sure-fire strategy. But as David Sax points out (subscription required) in the New Republic, Canadian anti-Americanism may be broad -- a 2003 SES Canada Research poll showed only 13% of Canadians wanting Canada to be more like the U.S.; a 2004 Ipsos-Reid poll found that 82% believe that President Bush is not a friend of Canada -- but it isn't deep. An SES/Buffalo University poll in 2005 showed that a majority of Canadians want closer relations with the U.S. on security, antiterrorism, and energy policy. Canadians don't want to be Americans, but they do want to be American allies. The Grits have made this tough over the years, with periodic anti-Bush and anti-American outbursts from the back and front benches.
The Tories won't have that problem. Though Harper has made pains to distance himself from the perception of excessive deference to Washington, even writing to the Washington Times to dispute an op-ed characterizing him as "Mr. Bush's new best friend internationally," the fact is that he'll be the most pro-American Canadian Prime Minister in a long time. He may not send Canadian troops to Iraq, but he has praised the U.S. for pursuing democracy there and would stand with the U.S. (and Israel) in international disputes where his predecessors would stand against us. In a dangerous world, the good guys are about to gain another strong leader. And that's bad news for the bad guys.