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|Written by Kendall R. Giberson|
|Wednesday, 03 February 2010 00:00|
Though it may have seemed longer to some, February 2010 marks the fourth year that Stephen Harper's Conservative government has been in power in Ottawa. In a majority government situation, this would usually signify an election would be called soon. In this case, the current minority government is 14 months into its second mandate with the Prime Minister in no hurry to call an election any time soon.
At the time of this writing, it has become quite fashionable for columnists to jump on the bandwagon and condemn the Harper government for proroguing Parliament for the second time in 13 months and accuse him of attempting to skirt the hot-button issue of the Canadian military's treatment of detainees in Afghanistan. While this is a potentially great embarrassment for the government, the issue has not yet been resolved, and stories are still trickling in (and the truth behind them still being evaluated). Instead, we should evaluate the first four years of Harper's Conservative government as they take a break for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Let's take a walk through the good, the bad, and the so-so.
Harper has been asking for a majority government from Canadians for some years now, but is the Conservative mandate more palatable to Canadians as a minority government?
Following Through on Election Promises
During the 2006 campaign, the Conservatives focused on five key policy areas they would address when elected. These areas were accountability, tax reform, crime, child day care, and health care. Soon after election, the government introduced measures to address four of the five (the health care system may have proven to be too much to tackle).
Reducing the GST
Simply put, reducing the GST from 7% to 5% did not really affect the average Canadian in any way, but it was a symbolic gesture that the Conservatives were going to do things a little differently. This was only part of a series of changes to Canadian tax legislation made during the first term, but it was the most tangible to Canadians.
Child Care Stipend
The $1200 per child, per year stipend given to Canadian families replaced the previous child care tax incentive program. This did not make much of a difference in the cost of day care for the average family, but it did make the system less complicated, regardless of what parents do with the money.
Free Vote on Same-Sex Marriage
This was another election promise followed through on. A free vote was held in the House of Commons on December 7, 2006, on whether or not to re-investigate the issue of its legality. The vote came out in favour of not doing so. Issue closed, likely forever.
Apology for Chinese Head Tax
This was a long overdue gesture to a significant portion of the Canadian populace wherein Harper issued a full apology to Chinese immigrants and their families for the head tax imposed on them upon entry to Canada. The policy was in place until 1923.
Indian Residential Schools Resolution
After a series of legal decisions, the federal government decided to do the right thing and assume responsibility for abuses suffered by aboriginals under federally administered or funded residential schools. On June 11, 2008, Harper issued an apology to all survivors of the residential school system and also announced the creation of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help foster better relations between Aboriginal Canadians and the government. As a result of the legal action, the government bailed out the church organizations that would have been bankrupted by the class action suit won against them by former students.
Avoiding the Quebec Sovereignty Debate
This short list of achievements on the part of the Harper government would not be complete without recognizing the fact that it has all but completely avoided the constitutional debate surrounding Quebec sovereignty; no small feat considering all the problems it has caused previous federal governments in the three past decades.
Running a Budget Deficit
Fiscal management was one of the ideological foundations of both the old Reform/Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative Party. They both said that, if elected, eliminating the national debt would be a major priority. After the merged Conservative Party gained power, budget deficits have occurred every single year after a decade of surplus budgets under the old Liberal regime. How much of this can be attributed to economic recession and how much to poor fiscal estimates on the part of the Conservative financial brain trust is debatable, but history will record that it happened under their watch.
Professionals in the media have publicly stated that under Harper, the Conservatives have not been very media-friendly. Complaints have ranged from the government pre-selecting the reporters who are allowed to ask questions at press conferences to announcing public appearances too late for the media to get to the location on time.
Suing the Liberal Party for Libel
In 2008, in an unprecedented move, Stephen Harper sued the opposition Liberal Party for libel after an article was posted on the Liberal Party's website accusing him of knowing about a situation where members of his party offered a bribe to an independent member in order to secure his support during a budget vote in 2005. What should have been just another case of mud-slinging became a $2.5 million lawsuit that was settled in 2009.
Despite their long-standing criticism of such environmental initiatives such as the Kyoto Protocol, the Harper government has done very little to legislate enforceable standards for greenhouse gas emissions and the like. One exception is the banning of incandescent light bulbs. Harper recently came under much criticism at the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen for dragging his feet when it came to following international commitments with regard to environmental policy.
Proroguing Parliament in 2009
If we are talking about "the bad," this has to be mentioned. Despite the official explanation that Parliament is to be shut down during the Olympics, Harper comes off looking rather thin-skinned in the wake of criticism; he is not unlike the kid who sulks on the playground, then takes his ball and goes home.
Evacuation of Lebanon
The summer of 2006 saw the Canadian government foot the bill for the evacuation of 30,000 Canadian citizens from Lebanon after Israeli attacks on Hezbollah targets. On the one hand, the government received kudos for sticking up for its people. On the other hand, what were 30,000 Canadians doing in Lebanon at the same time? Taking advantage of a great vacation special? The high number of evacuees suggests that there were several people who used their Canadian citizenship as merely a convenience when it suited them, and within weeks many of the 30,000 were back (home?) in Lebanon.
Extending the Mission in Afghanistan
Inheriting a military commitment to secure and stabilize the country of Afghanistan after the U.S.-led coalition's bombing of the country, the Conservative government voted to extend the mission until 2011, two years longer than originally planned. The bad part about this is that more Canadians will certainly be killed in a conflict that not all Canadians support. The good part is that the longer we stay, the more likely that Afghanistan will be a better place than when we arrived.
The Accountability Act
One of the Conservative government's first projects was the construction of the 2006 Federal Accountability Act, a law that restricted corporate influence on politicians by placing limits on donations to political parties and restricting who can make those donations. It also restricts lobbying and gives the Auditor General more power in monitoring how federal money is spent. From the private citizen's perspective, this is revolutionary. Nevertheless, this law also severely restricts a political party's ability to run effective election campaigns.
It deserves mention here that there are some issues that stand unfinished, like the promise to undertake Health Care Reform and reduce wait times at Canadian hospitals. Also, the Conservative promise of reforming the Senate and making it an elected body remains unresolved, but Harper has been busy in the meantime appointing Conservatives when seats become vacant. There is also the issue of the federal firearms registry program, which the Conservatives have tried to abolish several times, but the motion keeps getting defeated in the House of Commons.
Economic crisis aside, the Harper government has been able to accomplish a remarkable amount in the two short mandates, partially because a minority government is forced to make more compromises and enact a lot of centrist legislation. There are those who look at Harper's latest actions and fear that if given a majority, a Conservative government would abandon its current middle-of-the-road approach and its policies would take a swing hard to the right.
After this evaluation of Harper's first four years, his strength as a Prime Minister has been as a strategist, or at least as a politician following the advice of good strategists. Every move, every public appearance, every word that is spoken in public is carefully calculated, and it is evident that within the party, Harper runs a tight ship. Arguably, Stephen Harper's biggest accomplishment is outlasting three Leaders of the Opposition (interim Liberal leader Bill Graham, in addition to Paul Martin and Stéphane Dion) in his four years as Prime Minister. If they are voted out of power in the next election, the current government will go down in Canadian history as getting the most out a four-year minority. If they are re-elected with a majority, things could be a lot different. One thing is certain; the next four years will be very interesting.
Tags: apology, campaign promises, conservative government, conservative party, foundation, liberal part, opposition, politics, stephen harper
Try "Epic Fail," Instead
Uh ... "middle of the road"? Bypassing due process and unduly
Such Glowing Praise for the HarperCons?
Wow! Nice propaganda for the Harper regime published here. The author of this piece pays no attention to how Harper's abuse of Parliamentary privilege impacts our democracy and our democratic rights. It's as though the writer has no regard for the long-standing traditions inherent in a Parliamentary democracy. The author would, it seems, prefer a corporate state with Harper at the helm.