Pubdate: Wed, 05 Apr 2006
Page: A20
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2006 The Washington Post Company
Author: Doug Struck, Washington Post Foreign Service
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Canada's New Leader Already Under Criticism

TORONTO, April 4 -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday moved to
end more of the liberal hallmarks that make Canada distinctive from
the United States and to reverse the policies of 12 years of Liberal
Party-led government.

Harper's Conservative government outlined its legislative goals in a
formal speech to Parliament, pledging to cut taxes, replace the
federally backed day-care system with subsidies, curb what Harper
calls lenient treatment of criminals and loosen the government's
monopoly on health care.

On Monday, Harper announced that his government would back away from
marijuana decriminalization, which was a regular platform of the
Liberal government. He has frozen funding for some grass-roots
environmental programs and pledged to scrap the country's gun
registration program, another favorite Liberal program.

"Canadians have chosen change. It is time to turn a new leaf," the new
government said in its "throne speech" Tuesday. Following British
tradition, it was formally delivered to the Parliament in Ottawa on
Tuesday by the official representative of the queen, Governor General
Michaelle Jean.

But after two months in office, some of Harper's wobbly initial steps
have brought sharp criticism to his Conservative minority government,
which needs support from political allies.

Harper's election victory Jan. 23 was quickly marred when he lured a
Liberal cabinet minister, David Emerson, to switch sides. That brought
howls of outrage from Emerson's Vancouver constituents, who felt
betrayed, and charges that Harper was reneging on his campaign
invocations against political chicanery.

Another campaign pledge -- to make government more "transparent" --
also seemed threatened after Harper banned his ministers from speaking
without his approval and held at least one secret cabinet meeting.

"Stephen Harper talks about accountability, but his own ministers are
not accountable. They are muzzled," Scott Brison, a Liberal member of
Parliament said Tuesday.

Harper also won faint applause for his initial meeting with President
Bush last week in Cancun, Mexico. The prime minister went there vowing
to press Bush to delay U.S. plans to require passports at the border
and to end a long trade dispute over softwood lumber.

He got neither. Harper returned from the trip to fierce criticism from
Ontario's tourism minister, who said the border plan will cost the
province millions in lost tourist dollars.

"I was astounded because I heard him in the campaign say he was going
to stand up for Canada," Tourism Minister Jim Bradley said Monday.
"Instead, we have the prime minister capitulating, running up the
white flag."

Far from a honeymoon, Harper has gotten a rough reception in the
Canadian media. Editorials have harped on what they say are broken
election promises, and cartoonists have had a field day with the
post-campaign revelation of Harper's ballooning paunch. Even the
fashion critics have weighed in, lamenting what they called his
rumpled attire at the Cancun meeting.

The one spate of positive publicity came last month during Harper's
first overseas trip, on which he made a surprise visit to Canadian
troops serving in Afghanistan. But the trip also served to highlight
the country's growing entanglement there, bringing calls from wary
Canadians for a public debate on the matter.

"I think it's going to be hard for Harper to duck the issue," said
Larry Leduc, a political science professor at the University of
Toronto. "He's determined that he is not going to have a debate in
Parliament, but that won't stop the opposition from raising it."

Harper's moves away from the Liberal Party's agenda to one more
closely aligned with the conservative U.S. administration also may cut
against his game plan to win more seats in Quebec in the next
election, said Peter Donolo, a political analyst in Toronto.

"In the past 15 years, Quebec has gone from being the most
pro-American province to the most anti-American one," Donolo said. It
is also socially liberal and the province with the most suspicion of
involvement in Afghanistan, he said. "Both those issues will cause him
problems in Quebec." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake