Paul Martin, the darling of the Liberal party’s right wing, is soon to become leader at his coronation.

And, to his right, we’ll soon see the emergence of a new Conservative party — now with the adjective “progressive” carefully excised from its name.

So, get ready for a new, wide-open, national debate — between the right and the farther right.

Meanwhile, back in Ottawa, the guy who was actually elected to run the country has been veering away from the right — and enjoying strong support from Canadians.

In the past year, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has infuriated the corporate establishment and others on the right by supporting the Kyoto accord on global warming, by refusing to allow Washington to intimidate us into sending troops to Iraq, and by insisting on imposing limits on corporate political donations.

But while all this has gone down well with ordinary Canadians, it has produced mostly scorn among media pundits.

Oddly, right-wing commentator Michael Bliss argued in the National Post last week that the proposed union of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives is needed to produce a “meaningful debate about ideas and policies.”

Now, there will undoubtedly be repercussions from this union, but meaningful debate isn’t one of them — at least not in terms of allowing for a range of viewpoints.

On the contrary, it’s going to shrink the already-wizened national debate to a still more microscopic level, leaving the NDP to shoulder even more than its usual burden in keeping debate alive in the country.

Take the crucial area of relations with Washington.

Last spring, we actually had a robust national debate over how to respond to the U.S. request that we send troops to Iraq.

But don’t expect any such wide-open debate over the equally crucial question of George W. Bush’s current request that we join in the U.S. “missile defence” program.

In fact, don’t expect any debate on that subject at all.

Martin has already said he plans to sign us up for Bush’s pet Star Wars project, thereby abandoning the long-held Canadian support for international arms control and opposition to weapons in space.

Not to worry. We can count on the new Conservatives to step up to the plate and vigorously attack Martin on this; to attack him, that is, for not committing more fully to Washington’s scheme to equip itself for waging pre-emptive nuclear war.

Watch for a new Conservative party leader to appear on CNN questioning the depth of the new prime minister’s loyalty to Washington.

Or take social programs, something the polls consistently show Canadians care deeply about.

Once in office, Martin will no doubt say he wants to rebuild social programs, but regrettably he’s discovered the cupboard is bare. (It didn’t help that he gave away $100 billion in tax cuts before leaving his job as finance minister).

But the new Conservative party can be counted on to hound Martin relentlessly, demanding even bigger tax cuts.

The new party didn’t chop the word “progressive” from its name just to save space.

Sadly, the deal signed last week by Alliance leader Stephen Harper and Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay replaces an earlier deal MacKay signed with Tory leadership rival David Orchard — a deal that actually would have broadened the national debate.

That deal called, for instance, for a public review of the party’s support for NAFTA.

Orchard’s contention that the North American Free Trade Agreement compromises Canada’s sovereignty drew a huge new base of grassroots supporters into the Progressive Conservative party; supporters who were keen to revive traditional Canadian conservative values like national independence.

But right-wingers denounced MacKay’s “backroom deal” with Orchard and offered up Harper as a more suitable suitor.

Never mind that MacKay was already spoken for.

The right-wing strategists substituted Harper as a preferable mate for their Roma princess and quickly drew up a new backroom deal more to their liking.

This new deal wasn’t tagged a “backroom deal” at all, but rather a “historic pact” that would bring down Liberal rule.

But the “historic pact” effectively involves the takeover of the national conservative party by a Canadian version of hard-right U.S.-style Republicanism.

This scares the daylights out of many Canadians and has sent them flocking in droves over the past decade to the big Liberal tent, seeing it as the best hope of keeping the wolves at bay.

Ironically, then, the “historic pact” is likely to consolidate the Liberal hold on power, which might save us from the wolves.

Just don’t count on having much in the way of social programs, and get used to being part of a plan to wage pre-emptive nuclear war.

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...