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Harper Government

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Harper Government

This article is about Stephen Harper's time as prime minister and his policies. For the membership of the ministry and cabinet, see 28th Canadian Ministry.

"Harper government" redirects here. For the system referred to in federal communications as "the Harper government", see Government of Canada.

The Right Honourable
Stephen Harper
22nd Prime Minister of Canada
Assumed office
6 February 2006
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Paul Martin
Leader of the Opposition
In office
20 March 2004 – 6 February 2006
Monarch Elizabeth II
Prime Minister Paul Martin
Preceded by Grant Hill (Acting)
Succeeded by Bill Graham (Acting)
In office
21 May 2002 – 8 January 2004
Monarch Elizabeth II
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien
Paul Martin
Preceded by John Reynolds (Acting)
Succeeded by Grant Hill (Acting)
Member of the
House of Commons of Canada
Assumed office
28 June 2002
Preceded by Preston Manning
Constituency Calgary Southwest
In office
25 October 1993 – 2 June 1997
Preceded by James Hawkes
Succeeded by Rob Anders
Constituency Calgary West
Personal details
Born Stephen Joseph Harper
(1959-04-30) 30 April 1959 (age 55)
Toronto, Ontario
Political party Conservative Party (2003–present)
Other political
Liberal Party (Before 1985)
Progressive Conservative Party (1985–1986)
Reform Party (1987–1997)
Canadian Alliance (2002–2003)
Spouse(s) Laureen Teskey
(m. 1993–present)
Children Benjamin, Rachel
Residence 24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario (Official)
Calgary, Alberta (Private)
Alma mater University of Calgary
Profession Economist[1]
Religion Christian and Missionary Alliance
Language English, French
Website Official website

Stephen Harper's term as Prime Minister began on 6 February 2006 when Stephen Harper and his first cabinet were sworn in by Governor General Michaelle Jean. Harper was invited to form the 28th Canadian Ministry and become Prime Minister of Canada following the 2006 election where Harper's Conservative Party of Canada won a plurality of seats in the Canadian House of Commons leading to the resignation of Liberal prime minister Paul Martin. In the 2011 federal elections, Harper won his first majority government, with the next federal election currently scheduled for 2015.


From Canadian confederation until the 1993 election, two parties alternated between the positions of government and official opposition: the Liberals and Conservatives. In 1993, the Progressive Conservatives were reduced from a majority government to fifth place and two seats in the House of Commons. They were displaced by the Reform Party of Canada in Western Canada, the Bloc Québécois in Québec, and the Liberals throughout the country due to vote splitting.[2]

Harper was elected in 1993 as a Reform MP. He resigned before the 1997 election and became an advocate of the Unite the Right movement which argued for a merger of the Progressive Conservatives and Reform. Harper was suggested as a possible Progressive Conservative leadership candidate in 1998 but he declined. Harper went on to win the leadership of the Canadian Alliance (which succeeded Reform) in 2002. In 2003, Harper and Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay agreed to merge their parties into the new Conservative Party of Canada.[3] Harper was elected leader of the newly united Conservatives in 2004.

In the 2004 election, the Liberals were reduced to a minority government due to a government spending scandal and the newly united right-of-centre opposition party. Harper went on to lead the Conservatives to win a plurality of seats in the 2006 election[4] and formed the smallest minority government in Canadian history.[5]

First mandate

The Conservative platform in the 2006 election was focused on five priorities: accountability, tax reform, crime, child care and health care.[6]

The Federal Accountability Act was introduced, which eliminated corporate and union donations to political parties, tightened lobbying rules including the cooling-off period for former civil servants and political staff, and introduced several offices to exercise independent oversight of government spending and accounting.[7]

The federal Goods and Services Tax, introduced by the former Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, was reduced from 7% to 6%,[8] and later to 5%.[9]

The Harper government introduced several pieces of legislation under a "tough on crime" agenda, including introducing mandatory minimal sentences for serious and violent offenders, however some of this legislation didn't pass the minority parliament.[10]

The previous Liberal government had begun negotiations with the provinces and reached agreements to begin to fund a publicly funded child care program. The Conservatives stopped this work, as promised in their platform,[11] and instead launched a $1200 per year stipend for each child under age six, paid directly to parents whether or not they incur child care expenses.[12] 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.[13]

The Conservatives also promised to introduce a "Patient Wait Times Guarantee" in conjunction with the provinces. While they did negotiate changes to the 2004 10-year health accord with the provinces with an eye to shorten wait times,[14] Harper was criticized by some media figures, such as Paul Wells, for downplaying this fifth and final priority.

After taking action in these areas, several media commentators suggested that the government lacked direction.[15] Despite having introduced legislation to fix elections every four years beginning in October 2009, Governor General Michaelle Jean granted a request from Harper to call new elections in October 2008. Harper said he asked for this early election because the opposition parties were delaying the work of parliament, while the opposition stated Harper wanted to get a new mandate before Canada felt the felt the effects of the 2008–09 world economic slow down.[16]

Third mandate

On 11 September 2011, Harper attended the tenth anniversary memorial of the 11 September attacks, in New York City.[17]

On 15 February 2012, the House of Commons voted to eliminate the federal Long Gun Registry. The Bill received royal assent later that year. This had been a long standing election promise and was supported by 2 opposition party members.[18] The registry had been cited as an example of cost overruns as well as criminalizing legitimate gun owners. The cancellation has led to conflict with the provinces (Ontario and Quebec) who have sought to retain the information from the registry.[19][20]

In February 2012, Federal Privacy Bill C-30 was presented to Parliament by the Harper Government. This legislation was designed to aid law enforcement's ability to track online activity, and provided provisions for the government to gather information online about citizens without a warrant, and without their ability to be aware they were under suspicion. Controversy over the warrantless privacy invasion and the poor behaviour of the minister introducing the legislation led to a public backlash over privacy concerns. Justice Minister Vic Toews did not understand details of the bill when questioned by the press, and accused anyone who opposed this bill as supporting child exploitation.[21][22][23] This led the government to send this legislation directly to committee for review,[24] and possible termination.[25]

In February 2012, a controversy emerged regarding attempts at voter suppression targeting non-Conservative voters in 200 ridings during the 2011 election.[26] The RCMP and Elections Canada are investigating these calls.[27]

Popular support

The Conservatives won 124 (or 40.3% of the total) seats in the Canadian House of Commons in the 2006 election while receiving 36.3% of the popular vote, and won 143 seats (or 46.4% of the total) in the 2008 election while receiving 37.7% of the popular vote. In the 2011 election, the Conservatives won 166 seats (54% of the total) with 39.6% of the popular vote.

Conventional wisdom before the 2011 election held that winning a federal majority without significant support in the province of Quebec would be nearly impossible.[28] The Conservatives disproved this by winning an eleven seat majority with only five seats in Quebec. The Conservatives won considerably more popular support outside of Quebec than they did elsewhere, carrying 48% of the popular vote outside of Quebec. This was only the second time in Canadian history that a federal government was formed without a substantial number of seats from Quebec.

Media speculation had been that the Conservatives would need to win in excess of 40% of the popular vote to form a majority government, the stated goal of Harper in the 2011 election. However, the Liberal Party was able to win a majority with only 38.5% of the popular vote in 1997 and the Conservatives have previously come very close to a majority with 37.7% of the popular vote (12 seats short) in 2008 and with 35.9% of the vote (6 seats short) in 1979.

Harper led the government through the longest lasting federal minority government in Canadian history, which ended when he achieved a majority victory in 2011.

Opinion polling between the 2006 and 2008 federal elections

From December 2006 to August 2008, the Conservatives and Liberals exchanged leads in opinion polls. From September through the election in October 2008, the Conservative led in all polls.

Opinion polling between the 2008 and 2011 federal elections

The Conservatives led in every public opinion poll released from March 2010 until the election. From January to September 2009 and again from January to February 2010 several polls showed the Liberals tied with or slightly leading Harper's Conservatives.

Opinion polling after the 2011 federal election

The Conservatives continued to maintain 37–39% support after the election. In March 2012, some polls showed the NDP tied with or surpassing the Conservatives and others show the Conservatives with a slim lead.[29][30][31] In May 2012, the Tories dipped into second place behind the NDP at 34%.[32]

Relationship with parliament, opposition parties

For most of Mr. Harper's tenure as prime minister, he has led a minority government meaning he must rely on the support (or abstention) of other parties in order to maintain the confidence of the House of Commons. The Harper government has often relied on the official opposition Liberal caucus abstaining in whole[33] or in part[34] in order to allow confidence measures to pass. The government lost its first confidence vote on a Liberal sponsored censure motion on 25 March 2011, prompting Harper to seek dissolution and the calling of the 2011 general election.

Confidence in the House of Commons

The principal motions of confidence in the Canadian House of Commons are matters of supply (motions and bills concerning the budget and spending government monies) and the motion in reply to the Speech from the Throne. The government may also designate any vote to be a matter of confidence, and opposition parties may introduce motions that explicitly express a lack of confidence in the government.

Non-confidence motion and prorogation of Parliament, 2008

Main article: 2008–2009 Canadian parliamentary dispute

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[35] the right to strike from Canadian public service 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 prorogue Parliament until 26 January 2009. Following the resumption of parliament, Harper introduced a new budget which was allowed to pass when members of the Liberal caucus abstained from the vote.

Senate appointments

Since being named prime minister, Harper has recommended the appointment of 38 persons to the Canadian Senate. All of these senators have been members of Harper's Conservative Party. Three (Michael Fortier, Fabian Manning, and Larry Smith) have subsequently resigned from the Senate to seek election to the House of Commons.

Harper has long been an advocate of an elected Senate and has appointed one senator (Bert Brown) based on the result of an Alberta Senate election. Harper has introduced legislation to provide for elections to advise the prime minister on who to recommend for appointment to the Senate and to cause appointed senators to serve fixed terms, to, in essence, create a de facto elected Senate without changing the constitution. Harper's Senate appointments and reform proposals have been criticized for failing to address the balance of seats among provinces, possibly being unconstitutional, and for running contrary to the spirit of his previous pledges for an elected senate. Harper has argued that without appointing senators, the Liberals would continue to enjoy a majority in the senate despite lacking popular support, that the senate would become less and less able to function, and that all of his appointees have agreed to resign and seek election to the senate should his reform proposals pass.[36]

Libel suit against Liberal Party

Harper launched a lawsuit on 13 March 2008, against the Liberals over statements published on the party's website concerning the Chuck Cadman affair. This was the first time a sitting prime minister had sued the opposition for libel. The $2.5-million suit named the Liberal party, the Federal Liberal Agency of Canada, and the unnamed author or authors of the statements published on the Liberal website. The articles at the centre of the lawsuit were headlined "Harper knew of Conservative bribery"[37] and "Harper must come clean about allegations of Conservative Bribery".[38] Those articles questioned Harper's alleged involvement in financial offers made to Cadman to sway his vote in a crucial 2005 Commons showdown. The suit filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice did not name Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion or MPs Ralph Goodale and Michael Ignatieff—whom Harper also threatened to sue.[39] The lawsuit was settle out of court in 2009 with both parties not disclosing the terms of settlement [40]

Dona Cadman said 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.[41]

Domestic and foreign policy

Harper's government has introduced 6 budgets, 5 of which have passed. The 2011 budget was not passed prior to the calling of the 2011 general election. Since 2008, every budget has run a substantial deficit. Harper's government has said this was a result of the 2008 global recession, while his opponents have said it is the result of new spending and lost revenues due to reductions to the Goods and Services Tax and corporate income taxes.

As with any Canadian government, the principal foreign relations issue is the relationship with the United States, Canada's closest neighbour and largest trading partner. The ongoing War in Afghanistan has also been a major foreign policy issue for the Harper government, who withdrew Canadian troops from Afghanistan in 2011.


Although the majority of Conservative seats were from the Western provinces, the majority of names which 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 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.[42]

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. Former 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".[43] 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.[44]

On 3 March 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.[45][46] 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.[47] Shapiro had also been under fire from former NDP leader Ed Broadbent for "extraordinarily serious credibility problems".[48] While agreeing with Harper that Shapiro's investigation was inappropriate, Broadbent and opposition MPs criticized Harper for refusing to cooperate with the Commissioner.[49]

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 20 March 2006.[50] However, Shapiro declined to launch any investigation into Belinda Stronach's floor-crossing,[51] even though it was done for exactly the reason that Shapiro claimed would be inappropriate.[52]

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.

Media relations

Unlike previous Prime Ministers of Canada, Harper has insisted that the Prime Minister's Office has the right to choose which reporters ask questions at press conferences,[53] which, along with other steps aimed at limiting and controlling media access, has created some conflict with national media.[54] 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".[55]

Before the 2011 election, the Canadian Association of Journalists wrote a letter to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, strongly criticizing the Canadian government for severely restricting access to documents that should be made available to Canadian citizens.[56] The CAJ stated, "Open government is not revolutionary and the government of Canada is behind compared to other nations and even some provinces."

"Canada's New Government" and "Harper Government"

While Her Majesty's Governments of various political stripes have traditionally used the term "Government of Canada" to describe the government in its communications materials, the Harper government has broken that tradition for two extended periods. From taking office in February 2006 until October 2007, the government was branded "Canada's New Government" and from late-2010 to mid-2011 it has been branded the "Harper Government". The former was the subject of ridicule by other parties and some media commentators,[57] while the latter has been criticized by some academics and former civil servants as a partisan misuse of government resources.[58]


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