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Learning from Canada – a warning for Tony Abbott

June 14th, 2014

Tony Abbott tells us he is impressed by the example of politics in Canada. The country’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, according to Abbott, is a ‘‘guide’’ and a ‘‘beacon.’’ On a visit this week he declared ‘‘I have regarded Stephen Harper as an exemplar of a contemporary centre-right prime minister.’’ The Canadian Conservative Party policies of fiscal rectitude with a reduction in the size of government and the role of the state are clearly in line with the current direction of the Australian Liberal Party.

But at the time Tony Abbott was praising his host, voters in Canada’s largest state of Ontario were giving the thumbs down to Harper like policies of fiscal restraint. The people there voted to turn the Liberal state government from a minority one into one with a clear majority.

On the front page of the National Post, a Canadian equivalent of The Australian, this morning was this verdict on the vote’s significance by its commentator Andrew Coyne:

In 2011, Tim Hudak sought to minimize his differences with Dalton McGuinty, downplaying economic conservatism in favour of a clutch of populist wedge issues. He threw away a 12-point lead and handed victory to the Liberals. People like me criticized him sharply for it. If only he’d offered people a clearer choice, we counselled — had he been more forthright, more substantive, more principled — he’d be premier today. So, in 2014, Mr. Hudak ran on the kind of staunchly conservative platform we favoured, and dropped four points.
There isn’t any point in sugar-coating it. This election was very much a referendum on fiscal conservatism, and the fiscal conservatives lost. Yes, the Conservative campaign was a mess, and yes, the Liberal leader, Kathleen Wynne, proved an effective fear-monger. But the central issue in this campaign, unambiguously, was fiscal policy — the Liberals ran on their budget, and the Tories ran on theirs, the Million Jobs Plan. Everyone agreed this election presented the voters with a clear choice, perhaps the clearest in 20 years. And they made their choice, just as clearly.

Just a little something for our Prime Minister to think about.

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