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The Province, Sunday, June 27, 2004

Is Canada angry enough to swallow the Bush agenda?

by James McNulty

Voters don't punish governments with a world-class record on the economy unless they've got rattlesnakes in their boots.

Hopping mad, that is, over something like the pork-barrelling scandal that plunged the Liberal trophy room into utter darkness.

Barring an 11th-hour shift in dead-heat polls, Canadians appear set to not only remove the Liberals' three-term majority in the Commons, but possibly hand the keys to an infant party that has yet to hold a policy convention.

Not with glee, mind you. Neither Stephen Harper's Conservatives nor Paul Martin's Liberals can muster more than a third of the electorate. No wonder the country is cranky, and no wonder Jack Layton's NDP is on the rebound. They won't govern, but Parliament will benefit from a revived NDP's strong social conscience.

The two main contenders are tainted, one by scandal and arrogance born of 11 years in office, the other by a platform with too much Reformism and not enough Progressive Conservatism.

Are Canadians angry enough at Liberals to snub Martin's economic record for the hard-right march of Harper's reform crusade?

Martin erased Brian Mulroney's $42-billion deficit and produced seven consecutive balanced budgets. Almost a million jobs have been created since 2000, interest rates are the lowest in 40 years, federal debt is paid down by $52 billion, and Canada has a plush $23.8-billion trade surplus.

Merrill Lynch chief economist David Rosenberg says the big economic picture "has rarely looked this good heading into a federal vote."

But rarely has a prime minister failed to campaign on such good fortune, instead heeding bad strategic advice to distance himself from the record of arch-enemy Jean Chretien. Harper, fresh from the disarray of the Alliance-PC merger, has taken advantage of Liberal disarray even with a Reform agenda.

His economic platform is the least prudent of the big three, outdreaming even the NDP by $30 billion on surplus projections and calling for big Gordon Campbell-style tax cuts that many fear will lead to deep, Campbell-style service cuts.

In B.C., MP Ted White wants to axe film-industry assistance while MP Randy White wants to rewrite the Charter of Rights -- which Harper would torpedo with the notwithstanding clause.

Harper doesn't seem to care who delivers health care. The CRTC and CBC would be gutted and bilingualism eroded. Harper wants to curb the Supreme Court. He denies the science around global warming.

His team would gut the hate-crime bill for the Bible. They want symbiosis with the U.S., more police, more prisoners, no gun registry -- and Harper would have taken us to war in Iraq.

Is Canada really cranky enough to embrace the Republican agenda of George W. Bush? YIKES!


James McNulty, Voice mail: 604-605-2094   E-mail: jmcnulty@png.canwest.com

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