Canada’s Martin Shifts Left, Wants to Be Un-American
By Randall Palmer
STRATFORD, Prince Edward Island (Reuters) – After pledging to develop a more sophisticated relationship with the United States, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin defined his election platform Monday largely as being un-American.
The Liberal leader appeared to cast aside his record as a tax-cutter and declared Canada could not afford large tax reductions but would instead pour money into health and social programs under his leadership.
“We are different than the United States. We want to be different than the United States. We want to be Canada, and we are Canadians and we’re very proud of it,” he told a rally on the first full day of his campaign for election on June 28.
“You can’t have a health care system like Canada’s, you can’t have social programs like Canada’s, with taxation levels like those in the United States.”
Martin’s chief opponent, Conservative leader Stephen Harper, attacked him for making higher taxes a defining issue.
“Any government that thinks this country is defined by higher taxes deserves to be defeated and overthrown,” Harper told a crowd in Smiths Falls, in eastern Ontario, a rural area where Liberal seats are up for grabs.
Because he took over as prime minister from fellow Liberal Jean Chretien in December, Martin decided to have Parliament dissolved only 3 1/2 years into a five-year term to try for his own mandate.
The strategy is risky since Martin’s support, seriously eroded by a scandal over political patronage, has sunk to a level that suggests he could lose his majority in Parliament.
But Martin appeared to decide the possibility of further bad news was even dicier.
The contrast with the Liberals’ campaign in 2000, when they had sought to steal a march on their Conservative opponents by introducing massive tax cuts, could hardly have been starker.
Martin was finance minister at the time and he brought in $75 billion in tax cuts, the largest in Canadian history, days before Chretien called the election.
“This is a different time. These are different circumstances,” Martin told a rally on Prince Edward Island, an Atlantic province where he hopes to keep Liberal dominance.
Under Chretien, ties with President Bush were strained, partly because Chretien delighted in pointing out his differences with Bush over fiscal policy and the war in Iraq.
Martin has pledged to be more sophisticated, though his campaign has repeatedly attacked the Conservatives for wanting “U.S.-style” health care or taxes or attack ads.
He denied that this constituted antagonism toward the United States.
“I’m not attacking the United States,” he told reporters. “Just because we share a continent with the United States and just because they are our closest friends doesn’t mean we don’t have Canadian interests and Canadian perspectives.”
Voters in populous Ontario are particularly sore that the provincial government decided this month to raise taxes to pay for the universal public medicare system.
Martin appeared to be banking on the other half of his reputation, that of a careful fiscal steward who started a seven-year string of balanced budgets. But in the process he was vacating much of the political space on right.
The Conservatives and two smaller opposition parties also have created serious doubt about the Liberals’ fiscal stewardship because of the scandal in which federal advertising funds were diverted to firms friendly to the Liberals.
I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry… me homeland is truly going nuts.
of course, I’ve now taken to turning off the television set to avoid all the Kerry/Bush ads already.