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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 January 2006, 03:08 GMT
Canada's leader faces frustration
By Lee Carter
BBC News, Toronto

Prime Minister Harper and his family on board a plane in Calgary
The new prime minister has promised change
The new Conservative prime minister in waiting is vowing to "change Canada" after his 23 January election victory.

However, it seems very unlikely that Stephen Harper will be able to effect much change at all.

He may even have difficulty pushing through his relatively modest election promises.

Mr Harper is in the frustrating position of being elected with a more slender minority than even the Liberals managed in the last Ottawa parliament.

And the Conservatives know all too well the kind of havoc they were able to inflict on the governing party and its leader Paul Martin during that chaotic 18 months.

The left-wing New Democratic Party, which has managed to increase its number of seats, is unlikely to be in any mood to want to make deals with a Conservative government.

Quebec

That leaves Mr Harper in the strange position of trying to work with the Bloc Quebecois, a party that only has representation in the French-speaking province of Quebec and whose most passionate ideological position is to separate from the rest of Canada.

Kady O'Malley, a journalist with the Ottawa parliamentary newspaper The Hill-Times, says that even though the two parties worked together before, if only to defeat the Liberals, their ability to be allies in this parliament will be extremely limited.

"The Bloc Quebecois may be interested in areas such as the provinces' relationship with the federal government," she says.

"But the Bloc is in a bit of a tricky position because they actually lost support in Quebec to the Conservatives during the election," she adds.

"I can't imagine Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe is that enthusiastic about the idea of helping the Conservatives look good."

Election promises

The only Conservative election promise that Mr Harper is likely to receive all-party support for is proposed legislation to root out government corruption and misspending.

CONSERVATIVE PLEDGES
Cut in national sales tax
Reform of justice system
New accountability rules to root out corruption
New funds for childcare and healthcare
"New voice" for Quebec federalism
Closer ties with Washington

But the Conservatives may not receive parliamentary backing for campaign priorities such as increasing Canada's military spending and proposed anti-crime legislation.

One area where Mr Harper's victory is likely to have an impact is Canada's relationship with the United States, which became strained under the last two Liberal leaders.

Prime Minister Paul Martin infuriated the White House recently by publicly lecturing the Bush administration for not signing the Kyoto agreement to reduce greenhouse gases.

And during the election campaign Mr Martin also angrily denounced the US ambassador to Ottawa, who had warned that the Canadian government's increasing anti-American rhetoric was becoming a "slippery slope".

Tread carefully

A Harper government in Ottawa is bound to be received with more warmth than the Liberals were - if only for being somewhat more ideologically in step with Washington.

But the Conservative leader is going to have to tread carefully and not appear to be too cosy with George W Bush, a US president disliked by most Canadians, according to opinion polls.

He will not move radically to change the country but there will be distinct differences between the way he leads and the way Mr Martin leads
Journalist James Travers

So this change does not appear to be so seismic after all, particularly when one considers that the average life of a minority government in Canada tends to be around 18 months.

By that time the Conservatives will be staring across the floor of the House of Commons at a new, reinvigorated Liberal opposition party sporting a new leader at its helm who may well be unencumbered with the baggage of the party's past.

No radical moves

James Travers is the national affairs correspondent for the Toronto Star newspaper.

He describes Mr Harper as an astute student of politics who will try to cement his victory by slowly trying to secure the Conservative Party's acceptance into the mainstream of Canadian politics.

"But he will have to satisfy his own base which comes from, at least by Canadian standards, a quite far-right part of the spectrum," Mr Travers says.

"He will not move radically to change the country but there will be distinct differences between the way he leads and the way Mr Martin leads."

Mr Harper's opponents have tried repeatedly to portray him as a scary extremist who would re-open debates on contentious issues such as abortion - and there are certainly party members who have socially conservative views at odds with more moderate, mainstream Canadians.

But the closer reality is perhaps best summed up in a National Post newspaper cartoon published just after the election result.

It depicts a car with loud speakers, patrolling city streets.

An official urges urbanites - traditional Liberal and New Democrat supporters - not to panic.

"Attention, elite, urbane, sophisticated, cosmopolitan citizens... please remain calm," it reads. "Please remain calm."




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