Those who care about support for democracies abroad and who want a strong ally for the U.S. and freedom around the world ought to be hoping that Canada's current Conservative Government, under the leadership of Stephen Harper, wins a majority in the election this Monday.
Back in the mid-1980s, it was easy – even fashionable – to mock Canada. It is still often wrongly perceived as a backwater, where people travel by dogsled, enjoy paying high taxes and make good bacon. As late as 1995, the Wall Street Journal wrote that Canada's dangerously high debt levels made it "an honorary member of the Third World."
Those who have been paying attention know a different story. Canada today is no laughing matter. It has come out of the economic crisis in better shape than any other G8 country. Its taxes are comparatively low, especially for corporations. It is on track to balance its budget far earlier than the U.S. And on the foreign policy front, Canada has outshone all of its Western allies in its robust defense of democracy, freedom and human rights abroad.
Much of the credit, particularly in the foreign policy realm, is due to to Stephen Harper's Conservative government, which is up for reelection on Monday.
This will be Canada's third national election in five years. The Conservatives have won the past two elections, but with only a minority of seats in parliament. Polls show the Conservatives on their way to winning a third straight time, although it is uncertain whether the second place party will be the Liberals -- once the dominant party in Canada -- or the socialist New Democrats.
Harper's Conservatives have campaigned hard for a majority this time, and it would be shame if they fail to achieve it. If they win only a plurality of seats, it would open the door for the opposition parties to form a coalition government and reverse some of the strides that have been made.
One of the first casualties, if the Conservatives are ousted from power, would be Canada's principled stance on crucial questions of foreign policy.
Until recently, Canadian governments prided themselves on being a "soft power" in the world, which meant, in part at least, shying away from taking strong stances in international relations, and favoring neutrality, particularly in the Middle East.
In the face of opposition from the foreign policy establishment, Harper has jettisoned the pragmatic approach of his predecessors. Canada under Harper has become an outspoken advocate for freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and strong support for the war on terrorism. Canada even ran afoul of the Chinese for daring to speak out against the Communists' flagrant human rights abuses.
The Conservative government also decided not to participate in the Durban II anti-racism conference because, as stated by Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, "it was showing all signs that it would degenerate into an open anti-Semitic hatefest." The Conservatives have also said that Canada would refuse to participate in the Durban III conference planned for this September in New York.
On September 23, 2009, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Lawrence Cannon, vacated his seat at the start of President Ahmadinejad's speech to the UN General Assembly. Many other countries walked out as well, including the U.S., but it was Canada that led the way.
Since Harper's ascension to power, Canada has consistently voted against any attempt to criticize Israel in international organizations. Canada was, in fact, the first government in the West to cut funding to the Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories.
Such decisions and policies may be the norm in the U.S., but not in Canada. It is unprecedented. Harper has faced, and continues to face, tremendous opposition to this new foreign policy tack. His opponents have blamed his new approach for Canada recently losing its bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council.
All this would be compromised if the Conservatives lose on Monday. May there be many more Harper-led worthwhile initiatives to come.