When Barack Obama was elected president on that electrifying night early last month, it became clear – if it wasn’t already – why Stephen Harper had rushed Canadians to the polls a few weeks earlier.

The last thing Harper would have wanted was to run for re-election after Americans had chosen a historic figure who promised to overturn the very Bush agenda to which Harper had so resolutely clung.

In particular, Harper was saddled with a history of lining up ever so close to Bush on two vital issues of growing importance – resistance to addressing climate change and an unwillingness to abandon discredited neo-conservative economic policies. Obama had talked eloquently during the campaign about overturning the Bush stance on both.

Harper may be many things but he’s not dim-witted. After the Obama victory – which produced near euphoria in Canada – Harper realized he had to abandon (or at least disguise) his Bush-era mentality.

And for a while he did, approaching the Obama camp about a U.S.-Canada deal on greenhouse gas emissions, and signing onto the Obama-led chorus calling for Keynesian-style economic stimulus. Harper even urged running up deficits, the once unforgivable political sin that now seems less controversial than community organizing.

But, as the government’s economic update revealed last week, Harper can suppress his deep right-wing urges only so long before they start erupting in the most embarrassing ways. The update was almost incoherent.

In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the ’30s, the document was severely lacking in economic stimulus, even reporting plans for a small surplus (whatever happened to Harper’s new best friend, the deficit?) and was full of old-style partisan backstabbing and public sector union bashing. It was more Sarah Palin than Barack Obama.

Accustomed to beating the opposition into submission, Harper apparently hadn’t noticed that, where there had once been nothing but mushy soft stuff, the Liberal party had miraculously grown a spine.

Let’s hope it doesn’t shrivel. A Liberal-NDP coalition, headed temporarily by lame duck Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, promises to be a superior government to one run by Harper. And any last-ditch attempt by Harper to prove himself a born-again Keynesian – promising deficits from sea to sea to sea – would have little credibility. We’ve all seen what this guy does when he thinks he can get away with it.

Certainly, there is much that a Liberal-NDP government could accomplish – on the economy, on climate change, on poverty. The Liberals are always at their best when they feel the hot NDP breath of social justice tickling at their necks. Otherwise, they tend to simply cavort with big business.

When the NDP held the balance of power federally from 1972 to 1974, the Liberals introduced a national affordable housing program, pension indexing and a national oil company. The Liberal-NDP accord in Ontario led to the first provincial pay equity legislation in 1987.

It’s true that a majority of Canadians didn’t choose Dion to be prime minister. But the same is true of Harper, a polarizing figure who provokes intense negative reactions in many Canadians.

During the recent campaign, there was much talk of strategic voting among Liberals, NDP and Greens – anything to stop another Harper government. A substantial 62 per cent of voters cast ballots in the hopes of electing someone other than Harper.

The majority may finally get the result it wanted, not the one our cockeyed, first-past-the-post electoral system so often delivers.


Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...