As the Canadian Parliament resumes, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper finds himself more powerful than ever
After five long years and two election victories with minority governments, Stephen Harper won his first majority last May in surprising fashion. Despite having numerous unpopular social policies, Harper managed to win an additional 23 seats guaranteeing full control in the House of Commons.
The election brought down Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who even lost his own seat, and formally resigned the next day. In Quebec, BQ leader Gilles Duceppe lost his seat as well and resigned as support for the Bloc Quebecois completely vanished. The only shining light for progressives was the equally surprising rise of the now deceased Jack Layton and his New Democratic Party, who became the official opposition for the first time in their history.
Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party now stand virtually unopposed in the House. The NDP, Liberals and BQ all have interim leaders and the Green Party’s Elizabeth May has very little time to speak as her party has but one seat. In addition to the House of Commons, Tories also control the Senate, thanks to Harper loading the upper house of Parliament with Conservatives over the last five years of Tory minority rule.
In the next three years, there are three liberal judges on the Supreme Court of Canada who are scheduled to retire, all of whom were appointed on the advice of ex-Prime Minister Chretien. This means during Harper’s current term (likely sooner than later) his Conservatives will also control the Supreme Court.
With total control over both houses of parliament, and soon the Supreme Court, few people can remember a more powerful Prime Minister in Canadian history than Stephen Harper. Unfortunately for liberals and progressives, he’s just getting started.
And getting started he is, the Harper government is setting out to modify Canada’s justice system with Bill C-10, tabled in the Commons last Tuesday. It combines nine separate crime bills that failed to pass during the minority government years. It aims to toughen punishment for everyone from drug dealers and users to sexual predators to what Justice Minister Rob Nicholson calls “out-of-control young people.”
This Bill will rewrite laws on the production and possession of drugs, on young offenders and on parole and house arrest, to name a few. In various ways, the Tories are increasing sentences, or introducing mandatory minimums, for offences such as possession of pot, a drug that was on the brink of decriminalization only ten years ago under Prime Minister Chretien.
This vast crime bill is expected to cost billions of dollars and is being introduced at a time when the murder rate in Canada is at its lowest point in forty years. It furthermore comes at the same time the Conservative government is paying a consulting firm almost $90,000 a day for advice on how to save money. Anyone else see the senselessness at play here?
As I mentioned earlier, the Harper Government is just getting started. While no one knows for sure what the future will bring, you can bet that in the next four years we’ll be seeing the liquidation and privatization of profitable crown corporations, the defunding of Canadian institutions such as the CBC, the lowering of taxes for corporations and the wealthy, the gutting of many social programs and every Harper speech ending with the words “God bless Canada”.
With the opposition parties in parliament either being built or rebuilt, it falls on us, the Canadian people, to keep the Harper Government in check, to question everything that comes out of his mouth and to turn all of our collective differing arguments into not just words, but action. Otherwise it’s going to be an awfully long four years.