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Harper dismisses radical moves on abortion, gun-control laws

Peter Mansbridge interviews Stephen Harper. Part 1 aired Jan. 17, 2011.


Stephen Harper thinks capital punishment sometimes fits the crime, but he doesn't plan to make it law if he's elected with a majority. Canadians, he thinks, are comfortable with his government, even when they disagree with it, and he wants to reassure them he plans no radical moves.

In a season of speculation over a possible election, the Prime Minister says there will be no action on abortion or overhauls of gun-control laws beyond the scrapping of the long-gun registry if he wins a majority. When asked, in an interview with CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge, he said the country doesn't want to bring the death penalty back.

"Well, I personally think there are times where capital punishment is appropriate," Mr. Harper said. "But I've also committed that I'm not, you know, in the next Parliament, I'm not - no plans to bring that issue forward."

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The next election - whether this winter or later - could well turn on the question of whether Canadians will entrust Mr. Harper with a majority government.

In the past, it often appeared voters were uneasy about whether he might take more dramatic policy turns if his government had the freer hand of a majority. Mr. Harper said he's heard the arguments about a "glass ceiling" on his support many times, but broke through it in opposition. He argued Canadians don't fret about his Tories now.

"My own sense is Canadians have gotten comfortable with this government," he said. "That doesn't mean all Canadians agree with this government. Certainly many don't. But I think most Canadians understand that we're a government that is, whether they agree with us or not, reasonably confident, focused on real issues, on trying to make the country better, not trying to enrich or glorify ourselves."

The Conservatives pre-election campaigning, too, focuses on mundane images of Mr. Harper as a steady hand in a stormy world - almost selling him as dull. And Mr. Harper insisted he has no radical changes planned on issues that have dogged past campaigns.

He describes abortion as an issue he's spent his political career trying to "stay out of" and insists he wants no debate on abortion law. "What I say to people, if you want to diminish the number of abortions, you've got to change hearts and not laws," he said.

On gun laws, he promises to scrap the gun registry - a Tory MP's bill to do just that died in a vote last year - but not loosen other rules, such as licensing of gun owners or restricting handguns. "The core of our gun laws are supported by most gun owners," he said.

Whether an election is triggered this winter depends on whether there is a showdown between the government and the other parties, and so far, the likeliest cause would be Liberal and NDP opposition to corporate tax cuts.

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Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and other government figures will fan out next week to campaign for the corporate tax cuts - which were approved in a previous budget, and trim the taxes by 1.5 percentage points each year in 2011 and 2012. The opposition is portraying it as a gift to big firms such as banks, but Mr. Harper defended it as a job-creator.

"Raising our taxes will - you know, we can get some more revenue this year - but frankly it's going to make this a less competitive country, a less good place to invest," he said.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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