Canada’s conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper secured a majority for his party in parliament in Monday’s elections while the leftist New Democratic Party more than doubled its votes at the expense of Quebecer separatists and the centrist Liberal Party.
Harper headed a minority government since 2006 but failed to win an absolute majority twice despite subsequent surges in popularity.
During his tenure, Harper lowered sales and corporate tax rates and avoided signing climate change legislation for which he was sharply criticized by the opposition.
Emboldened with fresh support at the polls, Harper said that Canadians could “turn the page from uncertainties” with their new majority government. He predicted a continuation of conservative policy despite pre-election scare mongering from rivals who forecast a further shift to the right. “We got that mandate because of the way we have governed, because of our record,” he told a press conference in Calgary, Alberta.
Canadians expect us to continue to move forward in the same way, to be true to the platform we’ve run on and be true to the kind of values and policies we’ve laid out before them.
The liberals, who dominated Canadian politics for much of the twentieth century, were decimated in Monday’s elections, losing votes to both the conservatives and the New Democrats. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff resigned.
The New Democratic Party, an alliance of labor unions, farmers, students and young urban professionals, entered a “new chapter,” according to its leader Jack Layton. So did Canadian politics. The New Democrats, now the main opposition, are far more forcefully opposed to the prime minister’s conservatism than the liberals were.
Under liberal leadership, Canada created a huge social safety net which the conservatives have only slowly attempted to untangle. The liberals legalized abortion and gay marriage and pushed for increased education spending and subsidies for renewable energy production.
The New Democrats share liberal social views but promote an active statism with regard to expanding public health care and increased welfare spending, paid for by higher taxes on businesses.
Both opposition parties have criticized the conservatives for excluding funding of abortion from public health plans. Harper has also denounced gay marriage, though not civil unions, and favors a more repressive drug policy.
His liberal economic policy and small-government conservatism are more popular however, suggesting that unlike is the case in its southern neighbor, Canada’s “culture wars” have largely been fought and decided.