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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum waves before the start of the presidential candidates debate in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 22, 2012. (Laura Segall/Reuters/Laura Segall/Reuters)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum waves before the start of the presidential candidates debate in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 22, 2012. (Laura Segall/Reuters/Laura Segall/Reuters)

John Ibbitson

Canadians thinking Santorum means Obama would win need to think again Add to ...

Canadians hoping that Barack Obama will be re-elected president may be cheering the astonishing resurgence of Rick Santorum in the Republican primary campaign. They should stifle their enthusiasm.

Many believe the former Pennsylvania senator is such an extreme social conservative that should he win the Republican nomination it would guarantee a Democratic victory in November.

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But one wise sage observed that a smart lawyer always tries to settle a case before it goes to trial, because once a jury gets involved, anything can happen. Elections are like that too. You just never know for sure how they will turn out. If Mr. Santorum wins the Republican nomination, he could become president. And that would lead to the deepest chill in Canada-U.S. relations in the two countries’ history.

Mr. Santorum debated Mitt Romney – who has been the nominee presumptive for months, but who just can’t seem to close the deal – and the other GOP contenders in Arizona Wednesday night. At times it felt as though Mr. Santorum were the clear frontrunner and Mr. Romney the scrappy underdog, when it should be the other way around. Polls have them running neck-and-neck in Michigan. If Mr. Romney can’t win in his home state, it may be impossible for him to secure the nomination.

Of the three most-possible outcomes – a victory by Mr. Obama, by Mr. Romney or by Mr. Santorum – Stephen Harper would much prefer the status quo. Granted, there is considerable tension between the Prime Minister and the President over Mr. Obama’s decision not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring Alberta oil to American refineries.

But the Harper government is reasonably confident that Mr. Obama will give Keystone the go-ahead once he is safely re-elected. And the two leaders have worked well on other files, including fighting the recession, navigating the recovery and pushing forward the Beyond the Border initiative to improve border security and ease obstacles to crossing.

Mr. Harper knows he can get more done with Mr. Obama in the White House than he could with a Republican president, simply because most Canadians still like Mr. Obama a great deal, even after four contentious years as president. There could be no Beyond the Border agreement between a Conservative prime minister and a Republican president. Too many people would suspect a sell-out.

Nonetheless, a Romney presidency could also work for Canada. He’s a Michigan boy whose family summered in Grand Bend, Ont., and who served as governor of Massachusetts, which has close ties to the Maritimes. And he’s a free trader who would certainly approve the Keystone pipeline.

But Mr. Santorum would be a non starter. No Canadian prime minister, Conservative or otherwise, could afford to get close to him. As president, Mr. Santorum would seek to make abortion illegal even in cases of rape and incest. He would discourage contraception. He believes Satan has corrupted American universities and mainstream Protestant churches. He embodies the vast gulf between American social conservatives and the overwhelming majority of Canadians. Any prime minister would try to keep any associations to a minimum, beyond what is essential between the leaders of two closely allied nations.

But really, it’s foolish even to imagine such things. A Santorum White House is so improbable that the idea borders on speculative fiction.

Just ignore that Gallup tracking poll from Tuesday that has him ahead of Mr. Romney nationally by eight points.



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