When things get bad in the United States, it is reassuring to turn to Canada, a country with a high standard of living, a small military and a national health care plan. Canada always seemed to be, if a bit duller than America, also a bit saner.
But this is changing. The new Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, inspired by the neocons to the south, appears determined to visit the worst excesses of George Bush's presidency on his own country. He plans to pull Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol and expand military spending. He defended Israel's massive bombing of southern Lebanon, even as Israeli warplanes bombed a clearly marked U.N. observation post, killing a Canadian peacekeeper. He was the first world leader to cut off funding after Hamas took over the Palestinian Authority. The decision was made despite Hamas having taken power after winning democratic elections that not only were recognized as free and fair but fulfilled demands made by the West. Harper has extended the mission for the 2,200 Canadian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, where 42 have died so far. He has slashed $1 billion in funding that assists the most vulnerable Canadians, including cuts in adult literacy programs, legal aid to gays and lesbians, and measures to assist unemployed youth, despite a near-record surplus of $13.2 billion for 2005-06. If the Bush Administration launches an attack on Iran, there is little doubt that Harper would line up behind Washington. When the Canadian prime minister was asked about Iran before his recent speech to the U.N. General Assembly, he called Iran "the biggest single threat the planet faces." And he sneers at Canada's long tradition of antimilitarism and generous social services, once calling Canada "a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its ... social services to mask its second-rate status."
But that is not the worst of it. The prime minister, who has begun, in very un-Canadian fashion, to close his speeches with the words "God Bless Canada," is also a born-again Christian. And Harper is rapidly building an alliance with the worst elements of the U.S. Christian right.
Harper, who heads a minority government, is a member of the East Gate Alliance Church, part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a denomination with 400,000 members that believes in the literal word of the Bible, faith-healing and the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Women cannot be ordained in his church, homosexuality is a sin and abortion is murder. Canada, however, is unused to public displays of faith, and Harper has had to tread more lightly than George Bush. But many fear the prime minister is taking a cue from the Bush Administration and slowly mobilizing Canada's 3.5 million evangelicals — along with the 44 percent of Canadians who say they have committed themselves to Christ — as a power base. Harper has spent the past three years methodically knitting a coalition of social conservatives and evangelicals that looks ominously similar to the American model.