Monday’s federal election
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, July 3, 2004

The important outcome of Monday’s federal election is that Canada has two political vehicles that remain viable forces for the national good. On the road to a victory that eluded both, Liberals and Conservatives made mistakes but they also made gains.

In the race for which party would make greatest gains within stated regional objectives, the Conservative party wins. Its 24 seats in Ontario out distances the Liberals’ 17 in the West.

Low numbers for the Liberals in the West are redeemed by the competence of the members elected. Of three from Manitoba, one from Saskatchewan, two from Alberta, eight from British Columbia and three from the Territories, there’s plenty of material with which the prime minister can build his cabinet. Reg Alcock, Ralph Goodale, Anne McClellan and David Anderson are known and respected quantities but David Emerson and Ujjal Dosanjh offer the new Liberal minority government additional policy and management depth and will strengthen western Canada’s already strong voice in a Liberal government.

The former British Columbia premier, Ujjal Dosanjh , also puts a welcome face on the vibrant Asiatic population that is now so big a part of the cultural and economic fabric of British Columbia.

And former Canfor CEO David Emerson will prove invaluable on trade issues, notably the soft wood lumber dispute. He may also help end the mad cow hiatus that is bankrupting cattle owners across the country. Progress on either of these files will vastly improve Liberal fortunes in western Canada and, indeed, the whole of rural Canada.

With few high profile names, the talents of Ontario Conservative members of parliament will reveal themselves over time but immediately at least one deserves Stephen Harper’s serious attention.

Peter Van Loan will be indispensable as Harper and the Conservatives commence their post election analysis and begin preparations for the next. Winning his York-Simcoe riding handily, the Toronto lawyer and consummate party animal is no rabid ideologue or political opportunist. Rather he is that increasingly rare breed of politician – the good soldier who was always there in good times and bad. Proving himself on the crucible of volunteerism, he worked his way through the party ranks and served at its highest levels.

As president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario in the fiscally conservative Harris hey days, Van Loan ran the party and advised the premier while avoiding the pitfalls of being in his inner circle. As president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, he crunched the numbers and identified the one Calgary riding the newly recruited Red Tory leader, Joe Clark, could hope to win.

Better than anyone, Van Loan can help Stephen Harper consolidate his base in Ontario. Equally important, he is intimate with the workings of the former federal Progressive Conservative party, including the Red Tory faction that did not sign on to the new party. Harper needs them because they are a stepping stone to winning the Liberal votes necessary for winning government.

While Harper may fear that his considerable strengths as leader would be undermined by the compromises necessary for winning and for governing, he can avoid this by channeling disparate energies in constructive and mutually acceptable directions.

By espousing a moderate Red Toryism and a moderate social conservatism, he can bring both factions on side. Whether it is the CBC, traditional marriage or the Supreme Court, Canada’s institutional arrangements not only bind the nation, they are the bedrock of our political and social stability. They are also a necessary balance to the continental integration that will follow enhanced economic and security arrangements with the United States.

By showcasing his more able women members, he can begin to win over the urban female vote.

And by focusing the energies of a prospective federal government to benefit individual citizens, he can free the provinces to act fully within their own jurisdictions. Not coincidentally, he can also reconcile federalism and regionalism.

These are tall orders requiring not compromise but rather Harper’s proven incrementalist skills.

For Liberals and Conservatives, the road ahead is full of rocks and potholes, and that’s before they get to Quebec. This election has shown how their vehicles, if somewhat scraped and dented, are still road worthy. By making inroads beyond their regional bases, they are also traveling in the right directions. Reaching their ultimate destination now depends on how they capitalize on their gains.

Margret Kopala’s column on western perspectives appears weekly.

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