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Conservative plans

HARPER MEETS MEDIA January 26, 2006: PM-designate holds first news conference. (Real Video runs 7:52)

»Stephen Harper and the road to power

"I believe for Canada, the best is yet to come." � Stephen Harper, Jan. 13, 2006.

Incoming Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canadians have chosen change, and now his new government is poised to deliver.

While it's impossible to predict the future, let's take a look at what the new government has said it wants to tackle first.

Harper held his first news conference on Jan. 26, 2006, and reaffirmed the five main priorities that he listed during the campaign:

  • Clean up government with a federal accountability act.
  • Reduce taxes, starting with a GST cut.
  • Crack down on crime.
  • Establish guaranteed wait times.
  • Provide child care money directly to parents.
Harper pledged to begin negotiations immediately on fixing what he calls the "fiscal imbalance" between the provinces and the federal government. That could mean granting tax points to the provinces, and handing more responsibilities over to them. The party has also pledged to remove non-renewable resource revenue from the equalization formula.

The federal government usually releases a budget in the spring, in order to give provincial governments an idea of what to expect.

(They do have some latitude. After the Liberals were re-elected in November 2000, they waited another 13 months before releasing a budget, for a total of 22 months between budgets. Spending estimates must be presented twice a year, though � spring and fall.)

Harper is not likely to wait too long, though. One of the first orders of business will be choosing a finance minister to get a look at the government books. The finance minister will then decide when to go ahead. Harper�s cabinet will be sworn in Feb. 6.

But the GST reduction can likely happen by order-in-council, before a budget is tabled, as could measures to increase the tax on the lowest income tax bracket back to 16 per cent. Tax measures don't always require legislation to be passed by the House before they are implemented. The party has said spending in all government departments except defence and Indian affairs will be limited to the rate of inflation and population growth.

Then, the government will announce they will cancel the federal-provincial child-care deals struck last year. Harper has said it will stand for this year only.

The gun registry will go, and minimum sentences for gun crimes will be introduced. Harper has also pledged more spending on front-line police and RCMP officers.

The Conservatives have also said they would replace Canada's commitment to the Kyoto accord with a "made in Canada" solution. That plan would include a "clean air" act to enforce reduction of pollutants.

Who the government could work with

The big question, given that this is a minority government, is who will work with Harper's government to pass legislation. As in the last parliament, this may happen on a piecemeal basis.

Paul Martin's government did manage to pass about half of the 70 pieces of legislation it considered. Parties supported what they agreed with.

The NDP, well known for supporting the Liberals on a budget vote last spring, have not ruled out propping up the Conservatives as well. But leader Jack Layton has described four issues as "bottom line" for his party, meaning they wouldn't budge on them:

  • Opposing U.S. influence on Canadian military decision making, particularly in relation to Iraq and missile defence.
  • Opposing any move to dismantle the public health-care system.
  • Opposing efforts to "gut" Canada's environmental responsibilities.
  • Defending civil and equality rights.
The Liberals, not wanting to concede, have not said how or whether they would work with the new government.

The Bloc has repeatedly stated that no matter who is in power, they would work in the best interests of Quebec.

All parties will be leery of quickly toppling the government and heading into another campaign. To move too soon would be unpopular with the electorate, and after two elections in two years, the parties need time to rebuild their finances.

Despite a frenzy of announcements at the beginning of the campaign, once the Tories pulled ahead in the polls, Harper changed his tone somewhat. "I am basically a cautious person," he said. And the opposition parties will all try to make sure he lives up to that description.

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