Canada's New Conservative PM Calls US 'Our Best Friend'

By Howard Williams | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Ottawa ( - Declaring the United States to be his country's "best friend and largest trading partner," Canada's new Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has announced a series of proposals to improve ties across the 49th parallel.

Although short on details, Harper made it clear that improving the tattered relationships between the neighbors was among his top priorities.

In a speech outlining his new government's legislative agenda, read at the start of the new parliamentary assembly by Governor-General Michaelle Jean, Harper said "the government will work cooperatively with our friend and allies and constructively with the international community to advance common values and interests.

"In support of this goal, it will build stronger multilateral and bilateral relationships, starting with Canada's relationship with the United States, our best friend and largest trading partner."

Political analysts and commentators said they could not ever recall a Canadian prime minister describing the U.S. specifically as "our best friend."

The comment came toward the end of the "speech from the Throne," delivered as is customary by the representative of Queen Elizabeth II as head of state of Canada.

It followed a general domestic program including pledges to cut taxes, end corruption (the single issue held responsible for the collapse of the outgoing Liberal government), toughen criminal penalties especially when guns and other weapons are used, and to beef up border security which has been a sore point in recent months between Washington and Ottawa.

On crime, Harper said Canadians had always taken pride in a low crime rate, but there now facing an increasing "threat of gun, gang and drug warfare."

He pledged tougher sentences for violent and repeat offenders, particularly in the case of weapons-related crimes.

Among the tax measures planned by the new government is a one percentage point cut - from seven to six percent - in the federal sales tax on both goods and services, to be followed as soon as possible with a further one percent cut.

Not covered in the speech, but still on the Harper agenda according to statements he has made in the past week, is a plan to have a new debate on same-sex "marriage," which was legalized by the previous government.

Harper has promised to reopen the debate and hold a free vote in which individual members of the different political parties will be free to vote their conscience rather than follow any party line.

The prime minister has made it clear that he would like the legislation reversed, but he will not consider it a confidence measure which could bring down his government if it lost the vote in parliament.

He also announced that he would not proceed with legislation introduced by the Liberals to decriminalize the possession and personal use of small amounts of marijuana.

Observers here believe it is extremely unlikely that a bill to overturn the same-sex union law would succeed as all three current opposition parties supported the original legislation. Combined, they have enough members of parliament to outvote the Conservatives.

But the Liberal marijuana plan -- an irritant with Washington which feared it would lead to an increase in cross-border smuggling -- is now considered to be dead in the water.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.