Stephen Harper shifts bedrock of Canada
It is a mark of how much Canada has changed under Stephen Harper that the Liberals are offering to improve Ottawa's frosty relationship with Washington. "Our relationship with the U.S. is worse than it was a decade ago," Justin Trudeau told a luncheon audience in Ottawa last week "This has to change if we want to ensure prosperity for all Canadians."
This is not what voters normally hear from aspiring prime ministers - certainly not Liberal contenders. They typically promise a respectful - but not subservient - relationship with Canada's giant neighbour. They pledge not to sacrifice the nation's sovereignty for financial gain.
Over the last half-century, the personal chemistry between Canadian prime ministers and American presidents has ranged from friendly to functional. (Trudeau's father had a notoriously prickly relationship with Richard Nixon.) It is hard to remember the last time things got so bad that restoring cross-border civility became a campaign issue.
That is only one yardstick of change:
Who would have believed a decade ago that the census - the gold standard of national fact gathering - would become an election issue? Before Harper tossed it on the scrap heap in 2010, it was inconceivable that any government would touch the information-loaded quinquennial portrait of the population on which businesses, academic institutions, developers, urban planners and other levels of government depend.
Who could have imagined the Canada Revenue Agency going on a witch hunt for charities that oppose the policies of the governing party? Not only is this a skewing of the tax department's priorities; it is an unprecedented departure from its tradition of political impartiality.
Who would have conceived of Ottawa subcontracting the delivery of foreign aid to Canadian mining companies, long criticized for violating human rights abuses and fouling the environment of developing countries? Not only does this compromise the purpose of overseas development; it puts Canadians' tax dollars under the control of employers who are mistrusted - in some cases feared - by the people they're supposed to help.
Who would have foreseen the Law Reform Commission of Canada, the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (Rights and Democracy), the Health Council of Canada, the National Anti- Poverty Organization and the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy would all be scrapped? These agencies brought Canadians together to tackle common problems, focused on areas of public concern and produced well-researched non-partisan policy reports.
This is not a comprehensive list, but even if it were it would not capture the whole picture.
Canada has metamorphosed from a middle power that championed international co-operation and led the world in the campaign to eliminate deadly landmines into a country that seeks to be known for its military might. The Tories equate diplomacy with weakness, negotiation with naiveté. Canada's prime minister is the most bellicose member of the Group of Seven (the club of rich nations that meets annually to set global priorities).
Federal scientists, accustomed to sharing their findings with their global colleagues and the public, are no longer allowed to release their research or talk about their work. The gag order demonstrates how far Harper has gone to suppress information about the damage global warming is doing; blur the link between rapid development of the oilsands and the increasingly violent weather swings Canadians are experiencing; and deny his critics irrefutable proof that his push to make Canada an energy superpower is degrading the Earth's atmosphere. Despite his efforts Canada has acquired a worldwide reputation as the world's most intransigent defender of "dirty oil."
A nation that once took pride in its ability to integrate people of all origins into a peaceful, pluralistic society now glorifies pre-Confederation wars, elevates fallen soldiers to hero status and repatriates their bodies with tearful pageantry.
A country long considered a role model for its fair adjudication of refugee claims now treats people fleeing persecution as poseurs seeking to exploit the generosity of Canadians. It denies them life-saving medical treatment and holds them in maximum security prisons to prevent them from slipping out of reach before they can be deported.
Some of Harper's changes - the muzzling of federal employees, the withholding of public documents, the stifling of dissent, the marginalization of Parliament - can be undone.
Others such as the dismantling of national institutions will be difficult and expensive to reverse.
The prime minister never made any secret of his mission to wipe out the legacy of the Liberal party and make his Conservatives Canada's "natural governing party." He has made substantial progress on his first goal. Voters will decide on the second.