Harper’s first year

Elizabeth May
I have been on the road non-stop. Once the Nova Scotia swing was completed, I left the next morning for British Columbia. Since Saturday I have been in Vancouver, Kelowna, Victoria and Salt Spring Island for speeches, media interviews and Green Party fundraising events. Today, I will be in Prince George. Yesterday, being one whole year under Minority Rule from Stephen Harper (the minority government with the Majority attitude), I was asked often to provide an assessment. The Prime Minister, who even after a year insists on being called the "New Government," promised five priorities.
  • You cannot really give full marks for the Accountability Act, the top priority in his campaign. In the campaign, his party promised over 50 specific measures. In the end, 20 of those key steps for transparency and accountability, lessening influence of corporate lobbyists for example, were left out. Strangely, Harper’s government also removed the "duty to act honestly" from the previous Code of Ethics for Cabinet and senior civil servants. Democracy Watch has called the bill incomplete and full of "half- measures."

  • Open Government? Forget it. No one has ever seen a more top-down, "one-man-rule government" in Canada. No Minister is really Minister of Anything, as Michael Chong found out (kudos to him for integrity… he might have just grinned and borne the humiliation of having a key intergovernmental initiative -- his portfolio -- the "nation" vote developed without his advice….). The Prime minister is Minister of Everything. The backbencher with the temerity to demand real action on climate change, Garth Turner, former Cabinet minister who had served under two previous Prime Ministers, was turfed from caucus. The most paranoid of twists from PMO was not the insistence on vetting every word of every speech, although that was bad enough, but the new request that communications staff of each minister report directly to PMO if their boss was performing to expectations. That sent chills down the spine…

  • Wait time guarantees: This one has been dropped from on-going commitments, in favour of building more jails, which Harper's government seems to know how to do. Wait times were easily a politically calculated promise overlapping seriously into provincial jurisdiction. Medical experts have been critical of the targets chosen as out of sync with effective treatment, but the targets are not achieved and the government has admitted failure.

  • Not one of the five, but a key campaign promise, was the pledge to leave Income Trusts alone. Abusing the Liberals for their decision to leave Trusts alone (with alleged leaks) became more difficult when Finance Minister Flaherty spectacularly reversed the Conservative position. Clearly, Income Trusts needed to be taxed. Equally clearly, that reality was evident when Harper made the promise to safeguard the scheme as tax-free. The Conservative promise induced people to place more of their savings in trusts. It induced large corporations to plan for even larger Income Trusts. Having made matters worse, Harper’s government betrayed its base.
Not debated at all in the 2006 election, the Harper government has shifted the Canadian mission in Afghanistan from peace-keeping to George Bush’s "the war against terrorism." This has resulted in far more danger for our troops -- with US military command ignoring Canadian advice on issues like destruction of poppy crops. It has placed too large a priority on warfare while failing to deliver the desperately needed development assistance and protection of civil society. Not debated in 2006, the full year under Prime Minister Harper has resulted in the reversal of progress in international Kyoto negotiations, for emission reductions post 2012, while demolishing programmes for domestic emission reductions in the first commitment period (2008-2012). A nightmare first year. We lost the commitment to a universal child care programme. We lost the commitment to improved quality of life for aboriginal peoples in the Kelowna Accord. We lost funding to literacy programs, the Court Challenges Programmes, funding to the Status of Women, and on and on. The only issue where the Harper government disagreed with George W.’s opinion on any issue was their refusal to support an international ban on ocean trawlers and dragging the ocean floor. Despite the recent effort to "green" the Harper record, which is black as a lump of coal, there has not yet been a single commitment to meet Kyoto targets, to listen to the consensus of global scientists that emissions must be reduced to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Harper’s commitment to as little as 30% reductions below 1990 (which he expresses as 45-65% below 2003 levels by 2050) is simply a prescription for disaster. The problem is not that the year is wrong… one could defend a distant target if it was pegged to the urgently required emission reductions … the problem is that the ultimate reductions would allow carbon to rise to far too dangerous levels. . So, at the end of Stephen Harper’s first full year in power, let us hope it is also the end of his last full year in power.