Report Card: Assessing Canada’s Conservative Government
The following article, “Report Card: Assessing Canada’s Conservative Government on 10 Key Issues” was originally published in the Reformed Perspective magazine. It has been updated and included here as a reference item for our readers. You can download a PDF of the updated version, linked at the bottom of the text if you wish to print a copy.
By Mark Penninga (Updated July, 2014)
In a June 2011 article for Reformed Perspective I detailed 10 realistic goals that could be accomplished for our nation under this Conservative government if our leaders have the courage to lead and if citizens give them the encouragement and accountability to do so. Now that we are about halfway through this government’s mandate, how are we faring on these issues?
1. Give Aboriginals the responsibility and hope that belongs to all Canadians
Not long after ARPA published a policy report on this issue in 2012, we were very encouraged to see the federal government announce a number of bills and policies to increase accountability, equality, and opportunity for Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. In June 2013, the First Nations Financial Transparency Act became law. Aboriginal MP Rob Clarke has also introduced a private member’s bill C-428 entitled the Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act. And the government has also taken steps towards allowing private property ownership on reserves and increasing parental responsibility in education.
As encouraging as these changes are, they are small steps in light of the enormity of the problem. And given that the issue crosses into provincial responsibility, much more can also be done in having the provinces and federal government work towards a common vision.
2. Reform the Canadian Human Rights Commission
In light of all the opposition from all sides of the political spectrum to problematic sections of the Canadian Human Rights Act, it is striking that it took a private member’s bill (Brian Storseth’s C-304) to finally abolish Section 13 in the summer of 2013.
This was a huge victory, but the current government can’t take much credit for it, apart from not actively opposing it. Much more can be done to reform or even abolish the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
3. Appoint Supreme Court Judges who respect their role as being under the law
Mr. Harper has appointed 6 Supreme Court justices already, fundamentally changing the make-up of the court. Although legal scholars note that these judges aren’t known for being “judicial activists,” their record suggests that neither are they friends of social conservatism.
When the prostitution law was struck down in late 2013, five of the justices that made the decision were appointed by Stephen Harper. The same can be said of the “safe injection” Insite case (where a unanimous Court, including two Harper appointees, ordered the minister of health to allow the drug injection site in Vancouver to stay open), and the Whatcott case (where another unanimous Court, including two Harper appointees, held that Mr. Whatcott’s flyers outlining the harms of extreme homosexualism were hate speech, upholding the fines against him).
4. Reduce spending, shrink government, and decrease our debt
We are on track for having a “balanced budget” in 2015. Although that is commendable, we are far from paying back our enormous federal debt, now at $616 billion (increasing by $2 million every hour). To put that in context, one writer has noted that
Since first being elected in 2006, [Harper’s] government has recorded only two annual surpluses, thanks to the previous Liberal government. If the deficit is finally eliminated in 2015-16, it will have taken eight years since the 2009-10 recession and resulted in an increase of $175 billion in federal government debt.1
As for taxes and the size of government, when compared to GDP, government revenue is declining, which is encouraging. But that does not mean that the size of government itself is being rolled back. Given that this is a majority government, one could have expected much more significant cuts to the size of the government (including programs like the CBC).
5. Drop the “ism” from Environment
This government is to be commended for standing out from the other mainstream parties in its hesitance to use “climate change” rhetoric which blames human activity as a primary cause of changing climates (since when do climates not change?). The government has also opposed carbon taxes and pulled back from the previous government’s efforts to push “climate change” policy on the international community. But it has stopped short from openly challenging the deeply flawed science and economics that prevails on the issue in Canadian public policy.
6. Develop a good prostitution law
Bill C-36 is an exemplary piece of legislation and is worthy of emulation throughout the world. It recognizes the inherent exploitation that occurs when humans are bought and sold for sexual services, it understands the appropriate role of government in reducing the social harm that results from prostitution, and it appropriately targets those who exploit and fuel exploitation while providing opportunity for victims to escape. This may well be the best piece of legislation that this government has put forward.
7. Take an incremental approach to abortion laws
In 2013, the Conservative government actively opposed M-408, which would have condemned sex-selective abortions. They did this in spite of overwhelming public opposition to gendercide. And in 2012, little support was given to Stephen Woodworth’s M-312 which would have formed a committee to investigate issues pertaining to preborn life.
Prime Minister Harper is convinced that this is an issue his government should not address, in spite of the more than 95 per cent vote of support for a gendercide policy at the party’s 2013 convention and the abysmal reality that Canada is the only democracy in the world without abortion legislation. Thankfully, in spite of the government’s strong pro-abortion stance, Canadian society is increasingly realizing that we need a law. It is quite realistic that we will begin to see laws introduced and passed in the next decade, but we can’t expect to see them come (at least federally) while Harper is Prime Minister.
To his credit, Prime Minister Harper has ensured that funding to improve maternal health in developing countries does not go to support abortion.
8. Allow Income Splitting for family tax purposes
This government had suggested that income splitting will be announced in one of its budgets, to come into effect after the budget is balanced. Former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty criticized this concept publicly, resulting in a rare policy debate from within the Conservative cabinet. This resulted in a lot of negative publicity about income splitting, since promoting the institution of the family is not a high priority to many today. However, the government did very little to explain why income splitting would be good for all Canadians. Instead of proactively setting the stage for these common-sense tax reductions, they left it to others to defend.
9. Increase the fertility rate now to avoid a demographic winter soon
The fertility rate declined once more, to 1.61. The demographic, social, and economic impact is going to be astronomical. Yet, because of the moral dimension associated with the issue (i.e. promoting marriage, the family, and a culture of life) the federal government has not been talking about it or taking measures to address it. Sadly, it looks like we are following Russia’s example. In that country, they have realized too late that a nation without enough children to replace itself is on the road to implosion, with only immigration to counteract it. Immigration is only a partial answer, as it does little to address an aging population and creates new social challenges.
10. Listen to European nations telling us that multiculturalism is a failure
Former Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney has introduced substantial changes to Canada’s immigration policy, with success. As one writer noted in late 2012, Kenney
may not admit that he intends to abolish multiculturalism as an objective of immigration reform, but his immigration policies appear to be directed towards post-multiculturalism, a new order that avoids the excesses of multiculturalism without imposing the harsh policies of assimilation that are happening in Europe where he has been borrowing most of his ideas of reform.2
It is encouraging to see real progress on some of these important issues – something we should not necessarily expect to see in an increasingly secular democracy. Yet, in light of this government claiming to hold conservative values, and being made up of many Christians, a majority of seats should embolden it to accomplish more than it has. This is especially true when it comes to educating the Canadian public and mainstream media about why these changes are needed. But we can’t stop at just grading our government. Canada is not a dictatorship – the citizens have many opportunities to shape public policy and public thinking. We have to look at ourselves – what have we done to address the issues noted above? Have we taken the time to build a personal relationship with our elected representatives, and then used that relationship to talk about matters like these? If not, what is stopping us? Let’s give ourselves an honest grade, and then work to improve it. You can find more information on most of these issues, including suggestions for action, at www.ARPACanada.ca.
1Scott Clark and Peter DeVries, ‘Harper is a fiscal conservative – except when he isn’t’ (30 Oct 2013) iPolitics Insight.
2Joe Rivera, ‘The end of Canada’s multiculturalism’ (09 Nov. 2012) Uncomplicated Mind blog, online: <http://anuncomplicatedmind.blogspot.ca/2012/11/the-end-of-canadas-multiculturalism.html>.