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Premiership of Stephen Harper: Wikis

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This article discusses Stephen Harper's premiership from when he assumed office on February 6, 2006 until present.

Contents

Cabinet

Although the majority of Conservative seats were from the Western provinces, the majority of names which Stephen Harper put forward to the Governor General for appointment as Cabinet Ministers were from Ontario and Quebec, in the interests of regional balance. The new Conservative Cabinet was substantially smaller than the prior Martin administration because it did away with junior ministers (known as Ministers of State, and previously Secretaries of State). Several pundits in the media have described Stephen Harper's Cabinet as moderate, and a tempering of the Conservative Party's roots in the Canadian Alliance and Reform.

In selecting his cabinet Harper chose outgoing Liberal Minister of Industry David Emerson as Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the 2010 Winter Olympics, and Michael Fortier, a senior Conservative Party operative and campaign strategist, as Minister of Public Works, and as an appointee to the Senate. Emerson had been re-elected to parliament as a Liberal only weeks earlier, while Fortier did not contest the previous election at all. Harper argued that the appointments were necessary to provide two of Canada's largest cities (Vancouver and Montreal) with Cabinet representation, as the Conservatives did not win seats in these cities. Critics countered that no such concessions were made for Canada's largest city, Toronto, where the conservatives also failed to win a seat, but proponents of the Prime Minister contest that MP and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, representing the nearby city of Whitby, will represent Torontonians in Cabinet.

Opposition politicians and other critics attacked the appointment of Emerson as hypocritical, as several members of the Conservative Party had criticized former Conservative MP Belinda Stronach for crossing the floor to the Liberals and receiving a Cabinet appointment in 2005, shortly before a critical budgetary vote that amounted to a confidence motion for the then-ruling Liberal party. Emerson's decision was also met with opposition in his riding, where the Conservative candidate had received less than 20% of the vote in the previous campaign, although Emerson himself was re-elected by a large margin over the NDP runner-up. The Harper government defended Emerson's appointment as tapping a politician with previous federal Cabinet experience. Emerson himself suggested that it would help the Conservatives move to the middle of the political spectrum.[1]

Harper's recommendation of Fortier for appointment was also controversial, as the Conservatives had previously criticized the unelected nature of the Senate. Both Harper and Fortier have stated that the Senate appointment is temporary, and that Fortier will vacate his position at the next federal election to run for a seat in the House of Commons.

Other choices were met with greater support. Toronto mayor David Miller has called Harper's selection of Lawrence Cannon as an appointee to Cabinet as a "very positive step" and "a signal Mr. Harper's serious about reaching out to cities".[2] Harper recommended the appointment of Jim Flaherty as an elected MP to represent the city along with the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Flaherty represents the riding of Whitby—Oshawa, in the Durham Region of the eastern GTA, and his selection as Minister of Finance was viewed positively by the Bay Street business community.[3]

On March 3, 2006, Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro announced that he was launching a preliminary inquiry into conflict-of-interest allegations against Emerson and Harper. Shapiro said that he would look into what influence may have been wielded in the decision by Emerson to cross the floor.[4][5] Conservatives criticized Shapiro's probe as partisan and accused him of applying a double standard since he was appointed on the advice of the former Liberal prime minister, and had turned down earlier requests in 2005 to investigate Stronach's floor-crossing in which she received a Cabinet post, as well as a questionable land sale by Hamilton area Liberal MP Tony Valeri.[6] Shapiro had also been under fire from former NDP leader Ed Broadbent for "extraordinarily serious credibility problems".[7] While agreeing with Harper that Shapiro's investigation was inappropriate, Broadbent and opposition MPs criticized Harper for refusing to cooperate with the Commissioner.[8]

Mr Shapiro concluded that a minister crossing the floor to take a Cabinet position would only have been inappropriate if said Cabinet position was offered in return for some action in Parliament, such as preventing the government from falling on a confidence vote. Emerson's appointment did not fall under those conditions and Shapiro cleared both Harper and Emerson of any wrongdoing on March 20, 2006.[9] However, Shapiro declined to launch any investigation into Belinda Stronach's floor-crossing,[10] even though it was done for exactly the reason that Shapiro claimed would be inappropriate.[11]

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Deputy Prime Minister and succession

Unlike his recent predecessors, Harper did not name one of his colleagues to the largely honorific post of Deputy Prime Minister. Various observers had expected him to name MacKay, the former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and his deputy party leader, or Lawrence Cannon, as a Quebec lieutenant, to the post. Harper did, however, name an order of succession to act on his behalf in certain circumstances, starting with Cannon, then Jim Prentice, then the balance of his cabinet in order of precedence.

Policy

The Harper government has identified five policy priorities, in the areas of federal accountability, tax reform, crime, child care and health care.

The Conservatives replaced the existing federal child care program with a $1200 per year stipend for each child under age six, paid directly to parents whether or not they incur child care expenses. Harper has stated that his government will work with provincial and local governments, not-for-profit organizations, and employers to create additional spaces, and has set aside $250 million per year to fund these initiatives.

The Conservative Party campaigned on a platform of reducing Canada's Goods and Services Tax from 7% to 6% to 5% which was recently implemented

The Harper government has promised to introduce mandatory minimal sentences for serious and violent offenders, and to introduce a "Patient Wait Times Guarantee" in conjunction with the provinces. Harper has recently been criticised by prominent media figures, such as Paul Wells, for downplaying this fifth and final priority.

In addition to its "Five Priorities", the government has also devoted significant attention to military issues.

Domestic policy

2006 Budget

Apology to Chinese-Canadians

The Federal Accountability Act

Same-sex marriage

Foreign policy

First overseas trip

Relations with the United States

Relations with the press

Harper has insisted that the Prime Minister's Office has the right to choose which reporters ask questions at press conferences [12], which, along with other steps aimed at limiting and controlling media access, has created some conflict with national media [13]. It has been reported that the Prime Minister's Office also "often informs the media about Harper's trips at such short notice that it's impossible for Ottawa journalists to attend the events".[14]

Parliamentary reform

Sometimes Harper indicated a desire to turn the Canadian Senate into an elected rather than an appointed body, an objective previously proposed by the former Reform Party of Canada. His desire includes fixed election dates with earlier elections possible in the case of minority governments. On September 7, 2006, Harper became the first Canadian Prime Minister to appear before a Senate committee and was present to make his government's case for Senate reform.

With one notable exception (below), as Prime Minister he refused to make any appointments to the Senate pending such reforms. This resulted in 16 senate vacancies by the time he won his first re-election in October 2008.[15]

The one notable exception was Michael Fortier: When Mr Harper first took office he resorted to the appointment of the unelected Michael Fortier to both the Senate and the Cabinet, arguing the government needed representation from the city of Montreal.[16] Although this is not without precedence in the Westminster system, this led to many criticisms given the Reform Party of Canada's position supporting an elected Senate. In 2008 Mr Fortier gave up his senate seat and sought election as a Member of Parliament but was, in the words of Canadian Press, "trounced." [17] Upon re-election in 2008, Harper named Senate reform again as a priority.[15]

On December 11, 2008, the Toronto Star reported that Harper "plans to fill every empty Senate seat [(18 seats)] by the end of the year to kill any chance of a Liberal-NDP coalition government filling the vacancies next year..."[18][19] On Dec 22, 2008, the Globe and Mail reported that "Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed Monday (Dec 22, 2008) that he is filling all 18 current vacancies." [20]

Israel-Lebanon conflict

At the outset of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, Harper defended publicly Israel's "right to defend itself," and described the invasion of Lebanon as a "measured" response, feeling that Hezbollah and Hamas's release of Israeli prisoners would be the key to ending the conflict.[21] Many Arab-Canadians criticized Harper's description of the response as "measured". On July 17, 2006, Harper noted that the situation had deteriorated since his initial comments, but that it was difficult for Israel to fight "non-governmental forces" embedded in the civilian population. Harper reiterated his earlier support for Israel and called on both sides to show restraint and minimize civilian casualties.

The Canadian government made arrangements to evacuate about 30,000 Canadians, mainly of Lebanese descent, from Lebanon after hostilities broke out. The response was criticized as slow and inefficient.[22] On July 17, a group of protesters, primarily expatriate Lebanese, protested Israeli aggression in front of the Israeli consulate in Montreal; further protests took place July 22 in localities across Canada.[23]

Despite criticisms, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay joined Harper in reiterating support for Israel's position and urging restraint while calling for a ceasefire. Speaking of the situation in both Lebanon and Gaza on July 18, Harper told reporters, "We all want to encourage not just a ceasefire, but a resolution. And a resolution will only be achieved when everyone gets to the table and everyone admits...recognition of each other," referring to the refusal of Hezbollah and Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist. Harper laid the blame for the civilian deaths on both sides at the feet of Hezbollah. "Hezbollah's objective is violence," Harper asserted, "Hezbollah believes that through violence it can create, it can bring about the destruction of Israel. Violence will not bring about the destruction of Israel... and inevitably the result of the violence will be the deaths primarily of innocent people.".[24]

The War in Afghanistan

In early 2006, the Conservative government proposed a motion to extend the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan by at least two years. In May 2006 the House of Commons passed a motion, after a short six-hour debate, to extend the mission until 2009 by a slim 149-145 majority.[25] The Harper government reinstituted a policy of lowering the national flag at military installations such as Department of National Defence headquarters only, drawing criticism that the government was showing a lack of respect for the soldiers.[26]

In a televised speech on September 11, 2006, five years after the attacks in New York and Washington D.C, Harper linked the events of that day with the current mission in Afghanistan, and encouraged continued support for Canada's military efforts against the Taliban.[27] During another speech this time at the United Nations Assembly in New York on September 21, he asked the organization for help and mentioned that the crisis "is a test of the world body's relevance" and being the UN's most important test and mission for it.[28]

Environment

Harper and the Conservative government had criticized the Kyoto Accord on measures for controlling the global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. Harper considered that the objectives implemented by Canada to comply with the Accord were not realistic. He plans to create a "Made in Canada" solution that will concentrate its efforts on reducing smog pollution which would include regulations on gases coming from car exhaust pipes.[29][30][31] In a CTV report in October, however, the Conservatives had mentioned that it would be an approach rather than a plan.[32]

On October 10, 2006 in Vancouver, Harper had announced some of the measures to fight smog and also greenhouse emissions such as tax credits to environmental-friendly measures, a repackaged air quality health index and a program to retrofit diesel school buses. He will also introduced to Parliament a Clean Air Act with other measures to be announced in the upcoming days and would focus on long-term objectives. These measures would "move industry from voluntary compliance to strict enforcement; replace the current ad hoc, patchwork system with clear, consistent, and comprehensive national standards; and institute a holistic approach that doesn't treat the related issues of pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions in isolation." Prior to the announcement, activists groups across Canada had initially listed a series of recommendations to the Prime Minister including regulations on big industries and a recommitment to the Kyoto Protocol. Also, during the press conference, the term "Made in Canada Plan" reappeared.[33]

Details of the Clean Air Act were revealed on October 19, 2006. Its main plan is to reduce greenhouse emissions to about 45% to 65% of the 2003 levels but for the year 2050 with decrease starting in 2020. There would also be regulations for vehicle fuel consumption as well as for industries but not before 2011 and 2010 respectively while oil companies will slightly reduce emissions for each barrel but can still produce more oil barrels until 2020.[34]

In the 2006 budget, the government introduced a 15.25% tax-credit on monthly passes for transit users.[35] On the same day he announced portions of its green approach, Harper also announced a $300 million investment to the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority which would be used in parts in preparation for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games[33]

In 2007, it was revealed that Harper had dismissed Kyoto as a 'socialist scheme' designed to suck money out of rich countries in a letter he wrote to party supporters in 2002.[36] Recently though Harper has taken a more progressive stance on environmental issues, for example, his pledge to ban incandescent lightbulbs.

Supreme Court

Aside from his legislative agenda, Harper put forward Marshall Rothstein to Governor General Michaëlle Jean for appointment as the new Puisne Justice to the Supreme Court of Canada, on February 23, 2006. Rothstein had been 'short listed' with two other potential judges by a committee convened by the previous Liberal government. In keeping with election promises of a new appointment process, Harper announced Rothstein had to appear before an 'ad hoc' non-partisan committee of 12 Members of Parliament. However, the committee did not have the power to veto the appointment, which was what some members of his own party had called for.[37]

Stephen Harper sues Liberal Party for libel

PM Stephen Harper launched a lawsuit March 13, 2008 against the Liberals over statements published on the party's website concerning the Chuck Cadman affair. It's the first time a sitting prime minister has sued the opposition for libel. The $2.5-million suit names the Liberal party, the Federal Liberal Agency of Canada and the unnamed author, or authors, of the statements published on the Liberal website two weeks ago. The articles at the centre of the lawsuit are headlined "Harper knew of Conservative bribery" and "Harper must come clean about allegations of Conservative Bribery." Those statements question Stephen Harper's alleged involvement in financial "offers" made to Cadman to sway his vote in a crucial 2005 Commons showdown. The suit filed Thursday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice does not name Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion or MPs Ralph Goodale and Michael Ignatieff - whom Harper also threatened to sue last week.[38]

Dona Cadman says that prior to the May 2005 Budget vote, Tom Flanagan and Doug Finley, two Conservative Party officials, offered her husband, Chuck Cadman, a million-dollar life insurance policy in exchange for his vote to bring down the Liberal government.[39]

Non-confidence motion and prorogation of Parliament, 2008

Harper precipitated a national controversy, which threatened to overturn his government, by fielding a spending bill in the fall of 2008 which would have stripped taxpayer funding from political parties and taken away the right to strike from Canadian workers as purported solutions to the effects in Canada of the global economic crisis. Outraged opposition parties formed a coalition, intending to call a vote of non-confidence that would have toppled the Harper government, but he avoided the impending vote of non-confidence by asking the Governor-General to proruge Parliament until January 26, 2009.

References

  1. ^ McCrae, Jim (19 February 2006). "Tories left with lots of lemons to squeeze". Brandon Sun. http://www.brandonsun.com/story.php?story_id=18921. Retrieved 2006-04-04.  
  2. ^ Mroczkowski, Anne (6 February 2006). "Positive Start". CityNews. http://www.pulse24.com/News/Top_Story/20060206-006/page.asp. Retrieved 2006-04-04.  
  3. ^ Vieira, Paul (7 February 2006). "Bay Street likes economic ministers". National Post. http://www.anticorruption.ca/forum/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=2574&. Retrieved 2006-04-04.  
  4. ^ "Harper to be investigated by ethics commissioner". CTV. 3 March 2006. http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20060301/emerson_election_060303/20060303?hub=TopStories. Retrieved 2006-04-04.  
  5. ^ "Harper 'loath' to co-operate with ethics commissioner". CBC News. 3 March 2006. http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2006/03/03/emerson_060303.html. Retrieved 2006-04-04.  
  6. ^ "It's a political issue, not an ethical one". Globe and Mail. 4 March 2006. p. A22.  
  7. ^ "Ethics czar to probe Emerson defection". Toronto Star. 3 March 2006. http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1141383321201&call_pageid=968332188492. Retrieved 2006-04-04.  
  8. ^ "Broadbent blasts tactics to remove ethics czar", CTV, March 9, 2006.
  9. ^ "Tories willing to allow vote on floor-crossing", CTV, March 20, 2006.
  10. ^ "Shapiro refuses to probe Stronach defection", CTV, March 30, 2006.
  11. ^ "Canada's ruling party gets boost", CNN, May 17, 2005.
  12. ^ CBC Artilce - Harper and Media
  13. ^ Global TV Article
  14. ^ The Star Article
  15. ^ a b Steven Chase (2008-10-15). "Harper targets Senate reform". The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081015.welxnharper1015/BNStory/politics/home?cid=al_gam_mostview. Retrieved 2008-10-19.  
  16. ^ [1], CTV News, February 7, 2006
  17. ^ Canadian Press (2008-10-15). "Fortier trounced by Bloc incumbent". Canoe News. http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/CanadaVotes/News/2008/10/14/7085011-cp.html. Retrieved 2008-10-19.  
  18. ^ http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/552046
  19. ^ CTV News (2008-09-12). "Harper to fill 18 Senate seats with Tory loyalists". Ctv.ca. http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20081210/harper_senate_081210/20081210?hub=Canada.  
  20. ^ http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081222.wsenate1222/BNStory/Front/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20081222.wsenate1222
  21. ^ "Harper sides firmly with Israel". Globe and Mail. 2006-07-13. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20060713.wHarper0713/BNStory/Front.  
  22. ^ "Canadian evacuation going much smoother". Globe and Mail. 2006-07-22. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20060722.wcaneva20722/BNStory/Front.  
  23. ^ "Opponents of Lebanese attack hold vigil outside Israeli consulate in Montreal". Montreal Gazette. 2006-07-22. http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/story.html?id=bb1f191f-eadd-4b26-b4c7-e49376aa4fe9&k=16542.  
  24. ^ "Neutral stance rejected: Opposition criticizes Harper's tough talk". National Post. 2006-07-19. http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=c0ada2ed-6c3d-4690-9317-739c4d97fd16&k=49262.  
  25. ^ CTV.ca News Staff (2006-05-17). "MPs narrowly vote to extend Afghanistan mission" (Free). CTV.ca (CTV Inc.). http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20060517/nato_afghan_060517/20060517/. Retrieved 2006-08-31.  
  26. ^ "Four Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan" (Free). CBC News. 2006-04-22. http://www.cbc.ca/story/world/national/2006/04/22/afghanistan-deaths060422.html. Retrieved 2006-08-31.  
  27. ^ Blanchfield, Mike (September 12, 2006). "'The menace of terror must be confronted'". Ottawa Citizen. http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=5e3f9651-3077-4e96-9f74-ab3cf59e427f&k=56748.  
  28. ^ CTV News (September 22, 2006). "Afghanistan will test the UN's relevance: Harper". CTV. http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20060920/harper_UN_060921/20060921?hub=TopStories.  
  29. ^ LCN (October 2, 2006). "Rona Ambrose s'attaquera aux gaz d'échappement". TVA/LCN. http://lcn.canoe.com/infos/national/archives/2006/10/20061002-213247.html.  
  30. ^ CBC News (May 3, 2006). "Indepth Kyoto". CBC. http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/kyoto/keyresources.html.  
  31. ^ CBC News (January 18, 2006). "Reality Check : Goodbye Kyoto?". CBC. http://www.cbc.ca/canadavotes/realitycheck/goodbye_kyoto.html.  
  32. ^ CTV News (October 5, 2006). "Tories downgrade 'Made-in-Canada' Green plan". CTV. http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20061005/environment_approach_061005?s_name=&no_ads=.  
  33. ^ a b CTV News (October 10, 2006). "Harper rolls out first part of environment plan". CTV. http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20061009/tories_green_plan_061009/20061010?hub=Canada.  
  34. ^ CTV News (October 19, 2006). "Conservative government tables Clean Air Act". CTV. http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20061018/environment_act_061019/20061019?hub=TopStories.  
  35. ^ CBC News (May 2, 2006). "Tories shift climate change funding to transit". CBC. http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2006/05/02/environment-budget060502.html.  
  36. ^ CBC News (January 30, 2007). "Harper's letter dismisses Kyoto as 'socialist scheme'". CBC. http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2007/01/30/harper-kyoto.html?ref=rss.  
  37. ^ Globe and Mail 20 February 2006.
  38. ^ "Harper files libel suit against Liberals over Cadman statements". The Canadian Press. http://canadianpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5hWO1n_uKv1ZkQkkH9xh-ZpouAj2w. Retrieved 2008-03-13.  
  39. ^ Gloria Galloway and Brian Laghi. "Tories tried to sway vote of dying MP, widow alleges". The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080227.wcadmann0227/BNStory/National/home. Retrieved 2008-02-27.  

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