Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Harper to move fast to use his new authority

It's been seven years since a party had a majority of seats in the Commons, and Stephen Harper will put this new-found authority to immediate use.

A majority government not only cements Mr. Harper's leadership within the Conservative Party but it gives him four years to pursue his policies as he sees fit without having to shelve long-term plans every few months in case his rivals might defeat him.

"Our job starts tomorrow," Mr. Harper said in his victory speech from Calgary late Monday night. "We will implement what we laid out in the budget, our plan for jobs and growth without raising taxes."

Story continues below advertisement

A majority will make it easier for Mr. Harper to balance the budget. He will be able to schedule government spending cuts over four years instead of worrying this would alarm voters. It may also give him leeway to cut payments to provinces if his promise to keep health transfers rising at 6 per cent annually puts too much pressure on Ottawa's coffers.

Still, the Tory Leader will likely be cautious about radical moves, such as cutting funding to the CBC, even though it's one measure the Conservative base would like to see.

Mr. Harper's long game, as he's discussed in years past, is to shift Canada rightward politically so that the Conservatives replace the Liberals as the "natural governing party" in the eyes of voters. That's not going to occur overnight and it's not going to happen by spooking voters with radical changes from a party the Tory Leader has acknowledged is more conservative than the Canadian public.

The Conservative Leader will likely seek to change Canada more incrementally.

As pledged, the Tories will move rapidly on a far-reaching rewrite of Canada's crime laws. They're planning to bundle 11 pieces of law-and-order legislation they'd failed to enact as a minority government into one omnibus bill that will be passed within 100 days of taking power.

Measures would include an end to house arrest for serious and violent criminals, tougher sentences and mandatory jail time for sexual offences against children and a crackdown on the handling of violent and repeat young offenders.

Say goodbye to the long-gun registry and $2-per-vote subsidies for political parties now that Stephen Harper has full control over the levers of power in Ottawa.

Story continues below advertisement

And get ready for term limits on senators and greater foreign ownership of companies that offer telecom services such as cellphones.

The Tories plan to phase out per-vote subsidies for political parties over three years. Federal parties have in a short number of years become dependent on this public allowance that was introduced at the same time corporate and union donations were banned and now cost taxpayers $27-million a year.

It will hurt all parties initially, but will likely have more of an impact on Mr. Harper's rivals because the Conservatives are among the most adept at raising cash themselves.

Under the public-financing scheme introduced by a former Liberal government, political parties that earn at least 2 per cent of the popular vote receive a per-ballot annual allowance of about $2 per vote.

A majority may also mean more competition and cheaper prices for cellular phone users. The Conservatives haven't made specific promises this campaign but a majority gives them the legislative power to open up the telecom sector to greater foreign investment. The Tories pledged this in their last throne speech but never proposed anything. One of the options under consideration would be to allow foreigners to own 100 per cent of small players that have 10 per cent or less market share.

Mr. Harper will also be under pressure from his own party to move quickly to make the Senate more accountable. He's promised a variety of measures but the one that may be easiest to enact are term limits for senators, such as eight years. The Tories also promised they'd try to encourage provinces to work with them on establishing a democratic process for selecting senators but this could prove difficult.

Story continues below advertisement

The Tories will also be tempted to kill the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly over selling Western Canadian grain, a long-sought goal of their Prairie supporters. They were frustrated in their attempts to achieve this while they had a minority but now they will be free to pass legislation that enables this change.

Also on the front-burner will be legislation long sought by the United States to toughen up copyright protections for those who make movies, software and other creative works.

Breaking the digital encryption on a movie DVD – even if copying it for personal use – would make individual Canadians liable for legal damages of up to $5,000 under Tory plans. The intention is to put new legal heft behind the digital locks, or encryptions, that copyright holders place on products such as movies, video games and electronic books. Plus, the Tories want to go after the big fish in Internet copyright infringement, giving copyright owners stronger legal tools to shut down "pirate websites" in Canada that support file-sharing and introducing a separate criminal penalty of up to $1-million for serious cases where commercially motivated pirates crack digital encryptions.

Tories won 167 seats out of the 308 in the House of Commons, the NDP took 102, the Liberals 34, the Bloc Québécois four, and the Green Party one.

What most public opinion polls had suggested would be a nail-biter of an election was over by the time it hit Ontario's western border. The Conservatives appeared poised to claim more than 40 per cent of the popular vote — a big jump for a party that consistently polled in the mid-30s during five years of minority government.

The rise in NDP fortunes contributed to vote splits favouring the Tories, especially in Ontario where the Liberals were decimated in their last national stronghold.

The Conservative run started in Atlantic Canada, where the Tories overtook the Liberals in the popular vote and added three of the 12 additional seats needed to ensure solid control of Parliament.

The Liberals emerged from the Maritimes scarred but alive, having dropped two seats to the New Democrats and three to the Conservatives. The Tories picked up one seat by a razor-thin margin in Newfoundland and Labrador after being shut out in the last election.

The New Democrats rode a mid-campaign surge of support to an orange revolution of sorts, becoming Canada's official Opposition for the first time and almost tripling their seat count.

Michael Ignatieff's Liberals tumbled to third place in the seat standings behind the NDP with their worst showing since Confederation.

And Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe saw his party reduced to a small regional rump — the first time since 1993 that the separatist party hasn't claimed at least half Quebec's 75 seats.

Both Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Duceppe lost their own seats, and both leaders announced their resignations.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May was elected in her Saanich - Gulf Islands, B.C. riding, securing the party's first ever seat in the House of Commons.

With files from The Canadian Press.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.