Not unnaturally, the new Mulroney government interprets its huge September election victory over former prime minister Trudeau and his Liberal Party as a major swing in Canadian sentiment toward a more conservative, less interventionist government.
After all, Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative Party won an astonishing majority of 211 out of 282 seats in Parliament, so decimating the Liberals that it's a toss-up as to whether the Liberals, down to 40 seats from 138 in the last Parliament, are the main opposition party. Ed Broadbent's New Democratic Party (the socialists) comes close with 30 seats.
Some think that neither the Liberals nor the NDP has much clout, and that the outspoken Canadian press, irritated by a hasty "gag rule" imposed by Mulroney's inexperienced bureaucrats in an effort to control the flow of information, constitutes the most effective restraint at the moment.
But does the landslide represent that much of a shift to the right? Mulroney certainly campaigned on a platform that paralleled some aspects of Reaganomics: get the government off the taxpayers' backs, deregulate the governmental machinery, give the private sector a break.
"Through excessive regulation and intervention, the former government has substituted the judgments of politicians and regulators for the judgments of those in the marketplace," said Mulroney Finance Minister Michael H. Wilson in a Nov. 8 agenda titled "A New Direction for Canada."
Yet, even socialist Broadbent doesn't accuse Mulroney of running a right-of-center campaign. And the Canadian center is still to the left of the American center, it would appear. For example, an article of faith in Canada is national health insurance, still a no-no in the United States, and the Tories are not about to touch such elements of welfare-statism.
There are other reasons to think that Mulroney's stunning victory is a product of something more than a belated Canadian response to the conservative wave that in recent years swept Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Helmut Kohl and other industrial leaders into office, tossing overboard liberal or liberal-labor coalition governments.
For one, it was clearly time for a change after 21 years of Liberal Party rule. Jean Chretien, the thoughtful and colorful Liberal Party veteran who lost out to John Turner in the fight to succeed Trudeau as the party head, suggests that Canadians were tired of the same old faces after all those years.
In addition, there was the element of Trudeau's personality. The intellectual prime minister had little patience with his peers and, in the end, his perceived arrogance helped antagonize everyone from the provinces to his own party colleagues, to Canada's biggest trading partner.
"Mulroney's big victory was a vote against Trudeau, not so much a conservative revolution," says one keen observer.
Yet, with Trudeau out of the way, there are big changes in the making: Mulroney exudes a confidence in Canada's ability to fulfill its real potential without lapsing into the narrow economic nationalism that dominated the Trudeau years.
He is taking steps to open Canada up to foreign investment, abandoning oppressive screening procedures of the Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA) that had driven American investors up the wall. And where Trudeau talked of the "option" of pulling closer to Europe for business and investment relationships -- de-emphasizing trade and relations with the United States -- Mulroney is staking his political future on building a new rapport with the United States.
He complained at a luncheon with American editors last week that Trudeau's Liberal Party blamed everything on the Americans when they had a problem. Habitually, they made "the snarkiest references" to the United States, he said. (The dictionary definition of "snark" is to nag or find fault with.)
By way of contrast, Mulroney said that the United States is "Canada's best friend" and that his priority goal is to "refurbish relationships with the United States."
The visitor senses a sea change from the mood here at the peak of Canadian nationalism around the end of the 1970s. Early in 1981, Marc Lalonde (then the energy minister and later the finance minister) told me that "there are too many American businessmen who have considered this country as being the 51st American state for too long." FIRA was sending a signal, as banker William Mulholland said at the time, "that the Canadian environment is a hostile one and should be avoided."
That's the attitude that Mulroney is in the process of changing.
Another present-day phenomenon is that the steam has gone out of the French separatist movement. Trudeau should get primary credit for constitutional changes that have made all of Canada a bilingual nation. However, that doesn't mean that all of the old resentments between the Francophone population, centered in the Province of Quebec, and the majority of Anglophones have been set to rest.
But once Mulroney took over after Prime Minister John Turner's brief turn at the helm in Ottawa, Quebec Prime Minister Rene Levesque stunned the nation and his own following in Quebec by renouncing as a serious option the Parti Quebecois' goal of independence. He described it as merely Quebec's "supreme insurance policy" and said he was disposed to give Mulroney a chance to deliver on his campaign promise to effect a national reconciliation.
Mulroney, an Anglophone born in Baie Comeau, Quebec, speaks such an elegant French -- and has, as well, a native Quebecer's understanding of the province's special ethnic and economic problems -- that he devastated Turner in an election debate. The Tories won an astonishing 58 seats out of the 75 Parliamentary seats from Quebec, compared with a single seat before.
But one thing doesn't change: It is still emotionally difficult for Canada and Canadians to accept a junior-partner relationship with the United States. Here is one of the great and productive nations of the world. In any other part of the globe, it would be dominant. But in North America, it just happens to be next door to a more powerful country.
As on previous visits, one gets constant reminders of how hard this is for Canadians to bear: A member of Parliament grumbles that most Americans think "you take a dog sled to get to Parliament Hill." Mulroney himself grouses that Americans pay little attention to Canada. "The biggest story down there is Wayne Gretzky," he says, referring to Edmonton's great hockey star.
What Canada must overcome is indifference in the United States to Canada and Canadian affairs, Mulroney said. "I doubt if 10 percent of the members of Congress are aware that we Canada and the United States are each other's largest trading partners."
We Americans do take Canada for granted. Mostly, it's our loss.