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The world is changing Canada's politics

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The meeting of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and American President Barack Obama highlighted the fact that international relationships are beginning to shape our politics.

The two men discussed their stimulus packages, climate change and continental co-ordination in the energy field -- the most important topics for the future growth of both Canada and the United States.

An odd coalition of critics has charged Harper doesn't really love stimulus packages or policies to ameliorate climate change.

Left-wing politicians say he is only trying to fool Canadian voters and will revert to his "true-blue," right-wing status as soon as possible. "We don't trust him," NDP Leader Jack Layton said when he turned thumbs down on the recent Harper budget, even before seeing it.

Some right-wing commentators say Harper is only toying with government deficits and climate-change policies until he can win a majority. Then he'll go back to trying to decimate Liberals and acting on old Reform party policies they all know and love.

I don't know what Harper really thinks about anything. For all I know he turns into a wolf boy after midnight. What I can plot is his actions since taking office in 2006. If you do that, you can see the Conservatives are moving, in fits and starts, to the centre of the political spectrum.

A big headline in a recent Maclean's announced "the end of Canadian Conservatism; how Harper sold out to save himself." The story associated with the headline (by Andrew Coyne) indicates that Conservatism, as defined by Coyne, is dead. In fact, the actual party seems very much alive, and, because of global pressures, is returning to its old, centre-right roots.

The policies jettisoned by the party on its trudge back to where it started is impressive: no appointments of senators; fixed election dates; no corporate bailouts; balanced budgets; referendums; no new regional development agencies.

A lot of these policies, much-loved by some Alberta Conservatives, were never anything more than bric-a-brac for many other members of the party. Now, they're gone, swept away by the global crisis.

Canada has to co-ordinate its economic policies with the United States and other key nations. At the last meeting of the G20 (the G7 plus some up-and-coming nations), the members promised stimulus packages amounting to at least two per cent of their gross domestic products. Canada's stimulus package amounts to about one per cent of GDP; the United States' to about 1.5 per cent.

The next meeting of the G20 in London in April, which will be chaired by Chinese President Hu Jintao, is expected to deal with improving global financial regulations. Canada can play a leading role here. Our banks are in better shape than most in the world. Many experts are interested in how we managed to accomplish that.

Our stimulus package has to be co-ordinated with that of the United States because we are not just trading with one another; we are building things together. Autos are an example. It would be fruitless for Canada to come up with aid to its Big Three on an independent basis.

Climate-change policies must take into account what is going on in the United States because of the integration of many Canadian and American industries and the fact that, whether we like it or not, we have a joint climate.

Energy policies are critical for both nations. We are the largest supplier of oil to the United States -- and the United States is our largest consumer of energy, our top export.

Canada is moving in the same direction as Germany which has two major parties, one centre-right; the other, centre-left. They have been in a coalition which neither party liked very much. Interestingly, Angela Merkel, head of the centre-right, had to come up with a $67-billion stimulus package for Germany, a program she initially hated.

Harper doesn't seem bothered by criticisms he's destroying the Conservative party. He's even promised more economic relief measures. "In the weeks to come," he told a Montreal meeting, "our government will be announcing more initiatives under our economic action plan, all designed to create jobs, to boost economic activity, and to prepare for the future."

Spoken as a true Conservative.


Tom Ford is managing editor of The Issues Network.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2009 A11

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