Interview with Stephen Harper
In part one of a two-part interview, Prime Minister Stephen Harper discusses his leadership style, the legitimacy of minority governments in Canada, and his response to grumblings from the conservative voter base with CBC News' chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge.
In part two of the interview, Peter Mansbridge asks Stephen Harper about his economic plan, and how he would govern differently if he had a majority, particularly with regard to social issue legislation such as gun ownership, abortion and capital punishment. Plus, the Prime Minister shares his thoughts on how tone and rhetoric in Canadian politics have changed over the last few years.
Programming note: This interview will be re-broadcast in full on Mansbridge One on One on the weekend of January 22/23. Visit the Mansbridge One on One webpage for air times.
Read the transcript of Part 1 of this interview
Edited transcript of Peter Mansbridge's (PM) interview with Prime Minister Stephen Harper (PMSH)
CBC News The National
Broadcast on Monday, January 17, 2011
PM: PRIME MINISTER, I GUESS I SHOULD START WITH A CONGRATULATIONS IN A COUPLE OF DAYS - FIVE YEARS SINCE YOU FIRST WON OFFICE. BUT IT'S ACTUALLY, YOU KNOW, MORE THAN THAT IN THE SENSE THAT IT'S FIVE YEARS ALMOST TO THE DAY THAT YOU WILL HAVE BEEN LEADING A MINORITY GOVERNMENT IN CANADA.
NO OTHER PRIME MINISTER HAS GONE THAT LONG. I THINK YOU NOW EDGE OUT LESTER PEARSON. DOES THAT MEAN SOMETHING TO YOU?
PMSH: I think it's just an interesting statistic. You know, the minority Parliament's been interesting. I think we've demonstrated that it can work. It hasn't always been pretty. We don't get done everything we want to get done, or sometimes I think we need to get done. But I think for the most part considering what could have happened it's served Canadians fairly well.
You know I don't know what to say beyond that. It's just a statistic. I didn't get into this for longevity, you know, my focus is not on those kinds of things. It's obviously on the substance of what we're doing as a government.
PM: A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO YOU TOLD ME THAT YOU THOUGHT THAT CANADA MAY BE IN FOR A PERIOD OF MINORITY GOVERNMENTS, A SERIES OF MINORITY GOVERNMENTS. DO YOU STILL FEEL THAT WAY?
PMSH: That's possible, although, you know, you're probably aware of my take on where we're headed in the next Parliament. I think we saw a forewarning of that in this Parliament. I think the next time our Party will either form a majority or I think we'll see a coalition of the other parties. That's my belief. Everything I see points to that.
I of course will always be happy to see if the people of Canada elect a Conservative minority, I'd be happy to do that. But my anticipation is that we'll go one way or the other next time.
PM: WHENEVER YOU TALK THAT WAY ABOUT THE OTHER PARTIES FORMING A COALITION, YOU TEND TO DO IT IN A PRETTY NEGATIVE WAY - ALMOST THAT IT'S SOMEHOW KIND OF UNDEMOCRATIC TO HAVE A COALITION?
PMSH: Yeah, yeah.
PM: I MEAN THERE ARE COALITIONS IN WESTERN DEMOCRACIES ...
PMSH: Well I think, of course -
PM: ... YOUR FRIEND DAVID CAMERON.
PMSH: Of course, and David Cameron's an interesting example because they had that debate there, and what I think the public concluded was undemocratic and not really legitimate was the coalition of parties that lost an election. Mr. Cameron won the election. And then was able to form a coalition.
I think, really, that's the issue, I think, if coalition is part of what the public was prepared to vote for. But I think when it's a coalition that is seeming to overturn the result of the election, I think that's when the public have a big problem with that.
PM: WHEN YOU LOOK ACROSS WESTERN DEMOCRACIES, THERE ARE A LOT OF MINORITY GOVERNMENTS OUT THERE. I MEAN, ONE, I SUPPOSE, COULD EVEN ARGUE THAT THE AMERICANS ARE NOW IN A KIND OF MINORITY POSITION?
PMSH: Well, I think you could argue the American system makes the President a perpetual minority in some ways.
PM: BUT, I MEAN, WHAT'S HAPPENING OUT THERE THAT WE SEEM TO BE IN THIS PERIOD, IN SOME WAYS, OF DIVISION, IN THE SENSE OF FORMING GOVERNMENTS? THAT THERE'S THIS KIND OF SOLID CORE ON EITHER SIDE THAT LEADS TOWARDS MINORITIES?
PMSH: Well, I'm not sure you can generalize like that, Peter. I think in Canada the reasons are unique. You know, it's not a secret, the presence of strong third parties, in particular the Bloc Quebecois' continued presence in Quebec, has made the math for majority government very difficult for anybody.
I think you know, different circumstances - in Britain and most of the continental European countries, typically minority governments follow from their electoral system. France actually has a majority because they've made changes along those lines. So I think it's hard to generalize.
I think what we can say that would be true, Peter, is that we know the globe is in challenging economic times and obviously in those kinds of times, people search for different answers. People sometimes coalesce strongly around certain ideas and certain parties and at the same time they often start to look for new options.
So you know, we're in a period, I think, globally, because of the economy, of some political stress as well. Although I think, frankly, in many ways less so in this country, if you actually look at where people are coming from.
PM: I WANT TO TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE FIVE YEARS BECAUSE I THINK IT'S INTERESTING TO TRY AND SENSE HOW THE COUNTRY'S CHANGED, HOW YOU'VE CHANGED IN THOSE FIVE YEARS. ESPECIALLY IN TERMS OF YOUR THINKING TOWARDS GOVERNMENT ITSELF.
I THINK IT'S COMMON FOR MOST PEOPLE TO ASSUME THEY FEEL A CERTAIN WAY IF THEY HAD SUCH AND SUCH A JOB AND THEN PERHAPS FEEL A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY WHEN THEY'RE IN IT. SO I HAVE BEEN DOING A LITTLE READING. AND I'VE FOUND A FEW THINGS THAT YOU'VE SAID OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS AND A COUPLE OF YEARS BEFORE YOU WERE ELECTED AS PRIME MINISTER.
YOU WROTE AN OP ED PIECE WHEN YOU WERE ASKED, YOU KNOW - WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE? AND YOU WERE PRETTY CRITICAL OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT NOT JUST IN A PARTISAN WAY BUT FROM A STRUCTURAL WAY, THAT THINGS HAD TO CHANGE AND FELT THAT OTTAWA WAS ELITIST AND TOO CENTRIST IN ITS STRUCTURE.
BUT YOU ALSO HAD THIS LINE: "THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DOESN'T DO ANYTHING PARTICULARLY WELL EXCEPT COLLECT MONEY FROM POLITICAL OPPONENTS AND SHOWER IT ON POLITICAL SUPPORTERS." THAT'S PRETTY TOUGH TALK. I MEAN, IT'S ONE THING WHEN YOU'RE OUTSIDE. YOU'VE BEEN RUNNING THAT SAME FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FOR FIVE YEARS. DO YOU STILL LOOK AT IT THAT WAY?
PMSH: Well, I think we've changed a lot of things, Peter. I won't say that one sees things differently as Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition, private citizen. I'm not going to deny that. But I think we've changed some things. One of the first things we brought in was the Federal Accountability Act. A series of measures. We changed the whole structure of donations and financing of political parties. We brought in new rules on lobbying.
I'm not going to say we've run a perfect government by any means, but there have been no corruption scandals or anything resembling that under this government. You look at Canada ...
PM: BUT - "IT DOES NOTHING"? "DOES NOTHING PARTICULARLY WELL"?
PMSH: Look at Canada's economic action plan. You know, we had a series of things under the previous government. You remember HRDC, sponsorship scandals - it seemed like a series of boondoggles, either corruption or incompetency scandals. And once again, not claiming we're perfect, but look at the economic action plan.
We got the federal bureaucracy - the senior public servants who deserve a lot of credit for the success in rolling that out - we got them finding ways to reduce approval processes, to work constructively with provinces and municipalities in identifying priorities and to get projects up and running and rolled out in record time. So I do think we changed some of the things. You know, obviously that's the Leader of the Opposition speaking, but I do think the performance of the federal government as an institution has been significantly better in the last few years than it was before.
PM: THE DAY YOU WON OFFICE AS LEADER OF THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY, THE NEW SPEECH YOU MADE AT THAT CONVENTION IN 2004 - YOU SAID: "WE CAN CREATE A COUNTRY BUILT ON SOLID CONSERVATIVE VALUES NOT ON EXPENSIVE LIBERAL PROMISES. A COUNTRY THE LIBERALS WOULD NOT EVEN RECOGNIZE. THE KIND OF COUNTRY I WANT TO LEAD." IS THAT WHAT YOU THINK YOU'VE CREATED SO FAR?
PMSH: Well I think, you know, I think the country's moving in the right direction. Look Peter, here's the big picture. Five years ago, at best, we were in the middle of the pack in advanced countries. Today if you look at most performance indicators, we're at the top. And in a challenging economic time, now you know obviously the challenging economic time is the big reality.
But I think in many ways it's like business. You know, everybody makes money when times are good. It's when times are not so good that the groundwork is laid for the next generation. I think we're doing that. I think, notwithstanding all the challenges that continue to be with us, I think we've done most of the right things in the economy. We're coming out of this recession. We have to keep working with our global partners, but we're coming out in pretty good shape. And I think we've got a generation of tremendous opportunity moving forward for this country.
I don't want to attribute certainly the Olympics' success by any means to our government, but I think it is symbolic of the confidence the country feels and what it can now achieve. We can go into an international event like that and actually win more gold medals than any country ever won in history. I mean who would have thought that that's what Canada's capable of? But I think it's a wake-up call for what we are capable of.
PM: YOU KNOW, IN THAT EARLIER OP-ED PIECE - AND YOU KIND OF REFERRED BACK TO IT HERE A MINUTE AGO WHEN WE WERE TALKING ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA - IN THAT EARLIER PIECE, ONE OF THE CONCERNS YOU HAVE ABOUT HOW THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OPERATES IS THE CABINET LEVEL STRUCTURE. AND YOU EVEN WERE SUGGESTING IN THAT ARTICLE THAT WE SHOULD LOOK SERIOUSLY AT HOW THEY OPERATE.
CABINET LEVEL IN THE UNITED STATES IS BY APPOINTMENT. IT'S NOT BY ELECTION. IN CANADA, OBVIOUSLY, YOU PICK FROM YOUR CAUCUS.
PM: YOU SAID IN THAT ARTICLE - I'LL READ IT TO YOU IF YOU WANT - THAT MAYBE IT'S TIME TO BE THINKING THAT WAY?
PMSH: You know it's interesting, I don't recall that. Whether that has merit or not and one can certainly see why there might be merit in that position, the fundamentals of our political system aren't going to change.
One of the things this government's done, Peter, is to establish some constitutional peace in this country. We haven't got into big constitutional bickering. We have not got into big jurisdictional fights with the provinces for the most part. We, you know, we're operating within the system we've got. And my hope is we will continue to attract and retain people to public life into Parliament that Conservative cabinet ministers. I certainly don't feel I have a shortage of people to call on today.
PM: WELL I RAISE IT BECAUSE YOU KNOW, THERE ARE THOSE WHO CRITICIZE YOU AS SORT OF A ONE-MAN BAND - THAT YOU RUN EVERYTHING, AND THAT YOUR MINISTERS ARE OFTEN KIND OF 'YES' PEOPLE TO YOU.
IN THAT ARTICLE, YOU SEEM TO BE SUGGESTING THAT YOU NEEDED TO LOOK ELSEWHERE AS A LEADER TO GET THE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO NEEDED TO RUN BIG DEPARTMENTS AND YOU'D FIND THEM IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR?
PMSH: Well, I don't feel that today. In fact, I actually do feel, with the experience I have, that people being willing and able to run for public office is actually one of the pretty important skill sets of being a cabinet minister. You know I think obviously you look for other things as well.
But you know in terms of that particular criticism Peter, you've been around long enough, you know every Prime Minister has been in charge, all across the spectrum - Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Mulroney, Mr. Chretien - every prime minister is accused of being a one-man band because the reality is the prime minister is the chief executive office of our government.
But as I've said to many people - look, most of the things I do, I lead a team. Most of the things I do, the vast, vast majority of everything I do is a reflection of where the team wants to go. That's how we know our ideas are sound, that our cabinet will work on the details and that our caucus will liaise, a huge caucus that liaises with the public is confident that we're going in the right direction.
The Prime Minister does not sit in his office and just do things off the top of his head. It's part of leading a team and figuring out what the consensus is of that team, in almost every case. There are of course exceptions where the Prime Minister will say 'we've got to go this way' regardless of some other views. But those - those are pretty rare.
PM: LAST YEAR WHEN WE TALKED ABOUT THIS TIME WHEN YOU WERE APPROACHING THE FOURTH ANNIVERSARY, I ASKED YOU HOW YOU PERSONALLY HAD CHANGED. AND YOUR ANSWER AT THAT TIME WAS THAT YOU FELT YOU WERE MORE PATIENT, THAT YOU WERE LESS PARTISAN AND LESS SENSITIVE ABOUT CRITICISM FROM OTHERS. WHAT WOULD YOU ADD TO THAT?
PMSH: You know, it's funny, I thought you might ask me that question. I did think - I don't go around thinking about it every day, but I did think about it some more and I'm not sure I'd add a lot to it. I think all of those things are true.
I think part of what happens, Peter, when you're in government - I remember when I was in Opposition, people who had been in government used to say to me "the worst day in government's better than the best day in Opposition." And it sounded to me like a bunch of propaganda, to be honest.
But I actually think it's true. And the longer you're in government the more you value what you do in government. The ability to try and tackle problems, set an agenda, have some accomplishments. So the longer, frankly, you're in government, the more I think you become absorbed in what it is government's doing or can be doing. And frankly, the more you tend to see the partisan and electoral game as a distraction. Now, in minority government you can't afford to see it as a distraction for very long because it's always there.
But I think that's what does happen. I think it's probably a natural evolution. Other things happen, of course. You get a bit greyer. But I do think what I said last year is probably essentially true. I think, also, the more time you're in government you get constantly a deeper appreciation of the complexity of issues - of the complexity of viewpoints, of the value, whether you agree with it or not, of the range of opinion that exists among Canadians.
PM: SOME OF YOUR ARDENT SUPPORTERS IN THE CONSERVATIVE WING OF YOUR PARTY WOULD SAY THAT YOU'VE BECOME NOT ONLY LESS PARTISAN AND LESS SENSITIVE, BUT YOU'VE BECOME, YOU KNOW, IT'S A CRITICISM - BUT LESS CONSERVATIVE. IS THAT FAIR?
PMSH: No, I think if you look on balance I think this is a centre-right government. I don't think the fundamentals of our values are very different. I think we're clear about those things. We tend to favour free enterprise and markets over government intervention. Low taxes over high taxes. We favour family tradition. We're strong supporters of our traditional allies.
And I think it's pretty easy to identify the values we fundamentally stand for. If you were to say, all those things considered, you know, we see some pretty different policies in the last couple of years, or over the five years. But the answer to that, Peter, is of course. I mean, fundamentally, being a conservative is about being a political realist. And one's policies have to be appropriate.
You know, we've done, as no secret, we've done these big economic stimulus measures. We've had large-scale direct government spending, running some deficits in the past couple of years. Because everything I know about the economy tells me that's the appropriate policy under the extremely unusual circumstances we found ourselves in.
You don't stand up and do a policy that's inappropriate because somebody says it's not their dictionary definition of conservatism. But I think we've done it in a way that is consistent with our views and consistent with the promotion of the kind of Canada we want to see over time.
PM: WELL, YOU KNOW WHO GERRY NICHOLLS IS BECAUSE YOU WORKED HIM AT THE NATIONAL CITIZENS' COALITION. THIS IS WHAT HE WROTE JUST THE OTHER DAY: "STEPHEN HARPER HAS ESSENTIALLY THROWN ECONOMIC CONSERVATIVES UNDER THE BUS. DURING HIS TERM IN OFFICE HE'S ENGAGED IN SPENDING SPREES, CHALKED UP ENORMOUS DEFICITS. INCREASED THE SIZE AND SCOPE OF GOVERNMENT. EVEN EMBRACED TRUDEAU-STYLE ECONOMIC NATIONALISM."
NOW, YOU JUST ADDRESSED SOME OF THAT IN TERMS OF THE STIMULUS SPENDING --
PMSH: Well, first of all, that's not only untrue, but is completely unrepresentative of economic conservatives, Peter. And people who see themselves on the centre-right, particularly on economic issues, are overwhelmingly - in fact, I bet a pollster would tell you they're 95%, 100% supportive of this government. Because they know that we're doing what is necessary in the economic circumstances while maintaining our long-term approach, which is to keep taxes down and make sure that future growth is in the private free enterprise sector. That's what this government is doing.
In fact I think the opposite is arguable. I think the realism here Peter is not against some abstract - you know, we're political realists, Conservatives. We don't compare ourselves to some abstract ideology. The real comparison is, what is being done in other countries? I think arguably we are running right now the freest, the most free enterprise government in the developed world. I think that's very arguable. We're one of the few countries reducing our taxes. Even with our deficits and debt we're at some of the lowest levels in the developed world in these areas. So, you know, one has to compare oneself to reality, not to some abstract.
PM: YOU KNOW, SOMEBODY, I DON'T KNOW WHETHER NICHOLLS HIMSELF WOULD SAY THIS, BUT SOME WOULD ARGUE THAT YOU'VE TAKEN THE POSITIONS YOU'VE TAKEN BECAUSE YOU'RE IN A MINORITY. THAT IF YOU WERE IN A MAJORITY POSITION YOU WOULDN'T HAVE HAD AS EXTENSIVE A STIMULUS PROGRAM AS YOU DID. AND SOME OF THE OTHER DECISIONS WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN TAKEN BECAUSE YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN IN A MAJORITY POSITION.
PMSH: No, we've taken the positions, Peter, because they're the right positions for the economy. There's lots of things we've been pressured to do in this minority government that we've refused to do. We have refused to permanently increase the size and generousity of the Employment Insurance Program. The opposition parties unanimously have passed motions saying that we should institute effectively a 45 day work year under EI using the recession as a pretext. They've said that we should hike taxes again across the board.
Most recently of course they're calling for us to hike business taxes back up, to hike sales taxes back up. They all called on us, by the way, to have much bigger stimulus programs than we had. Of course, no matter what we spent, they would say, "spend more." We took the positions we took because they're affordable and they're the right thing to do.
We faced, Peter, what we faced in 2008/09 were circumstances that I thought I would not see in my lifetime. But economic theory is clear. When you have a complete collapse of market confidence, when you have a global financial system that has become dysfunctional, such that no matter what is done in terms of savings, that does not translate into private investment, then the only alternative you have is for government to move in, absorb those funds at - by the way, borrowing them at almost nothing or an interest close to zero - and put them to work productively to stimulate business confidence.
That was the situation we were in in the 1930s. We haven't been in a situation -- we've had some recessions before but we have not been in a situation like that in 80 years. I read about it in my textbooks, I certainly was aware of it. Did I think it would happen? No, I didn't, but it did. And so when it did I think we took the appropriate action.
And look at how we did this. Because I think it's important to look at how we did this compared to what some others did.
We didn't, Peter, use this as an excuse to create permanent new programs. We didn't use this as an excuse to create - we didn't choose the method of creating whole new bureaucracies to deliver stimulus programs.
What we did is we went principally to other levels of government. We said, What are your existing capital expenditure plans that the economy's going to need anyway? And let's prioritize those, fund them now and bring them forward in the economy now so we need them. I think it's good economics, long term. And I say, very different than the approach used elsewhere, and will not expand the role of government long term but will assist the recovery.
PM: BUT DOES IT EXPAND THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT? I MEAN YOU LOOK AT THE STATISTICS AND THE SIZE OF GOVERNMENT HAS GROWN CONSIDERABLY IN THE FIVE YEARS THAT YOU'VE BEEN PRIME MINISTER. SOMETHING LIKE 11%, 12%, IN TERMS OF THE NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES. I UNDERSTAND THE MONEY ISSUE BECAUSE OF THE STIMULUS PROGRAM, RIGHT OR WRONG - I GET THAT, BUT THE SIZE OF GOVERNMENT HAS GROWN.
PMSH: No, but I think Peter you have to look at where some of these increases have been. You know, for example, this government has been expanding the size of the military. We said we would rebuild the armed forces. We've expanded, we've hired more police officers. These are roles for government that Conservatives believe very strongly and we've increased employment in those areas.
Another area we've had problems in this country as you know with inadequate product and consumer safety laws, and inadequate powers of inspection. So we've bolstered capacities in those areas.
Now, are you telling me that going forward, especially as we're reducing our deficit, that there's areas where we could streamline operations? I think absolutely that's true.
But I don't think it's just the case that you say that government's bigger, therefore it's gone in a different direction. I think we're spending in the areas we need to be spending on. And I think if you look at the trend size of government with the recovery, it's not growing in this country.
End of Part One
Read the transcript of Part 2 of this interview
Edited transcript of Peter Mansbridge's (PM) interview with Prime Minister Stephen Harper (PMSH)
CBC News The National
Broadcast on Tuesday, January 18, 2011
PM: YOU KNOW, I'M NOT AN ECONOMIST, YOU ARE. BUT I'M PUZZLED, AND SO, IT APPEARS, ARE SOME ECONOMISTS AS TO HOW YOU CAN ATTACK THE DEFICIT ISSUE AND THE OVERALL DEBT ISSUE BY DECREASING CORPORATE TAXES, BY NOT INCREASING PERSONAL TAXES. AND AT LEAST, SO FAR, NOT ATTACKING THAT SIZE-OF-GOVERNMENT ISSUE
PMSH: I was going to say, Peter, you were doing so well until now. Because you were - here, I had CBC attacking me from the right!
PM: I'M NOT ATTACKING YOU. I'M JUST LAYING OUT THE ARGUMENT THAT COMES FROM SOME OF YOUR SUPPORTERS.
PMSH: But not very many. But let me let me respond to that one.
It is transparent as an economist that you're not going to grow our economy by raising taxes. You know, look at ourselves compared to the United States and others. Look at the job growth. Do you think that would continue if we started raising taxes on consumers and raising taxes on employers?
Several years ago, Minister Flaherty in concert with most of the other provinces - by the way, not just Conservative governments - Liberal governments, NDP governments - we set out to brand this country as having a 25% business tax rate, shared federal/provincial. And that's what we've all - not all of us, but almost all of the senior levels of government, the senior governments in this country, have been aiming for and moving towards.
And why do we want that? Because it will put us in a good competitive position that will attract investment. But at the same time, over time, that will maximize revenue to the government. 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.
So, you know, we're aiming for 25% rate, as we've cut these taxes a lot already. Have we seen huge drops in revenue, other than through the recession? No, in fact, revenues have been very robust because we're attracting investment.
PM: WHY ARE YOU SPENDING CLOSE TO $20 BILLION ON FIGHTER JETS? YOU WANT ME TO COME AT YOU FROM THE OTHER SIDE - WE'LL TRY THAT.
PMSH: Well, fighter jets? Well, the CF18's, Canada's traditional fighter jet as you know, will reach the end of its useful life beginning at the end of this decade. So starting in 2016 - and by the way this was just following through on something the previous government did - planning for the next generation of fighter jets...
PM: I GET THAT, BUT DO WE NEED THE BEST FIGHTER JET IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW? IS THAT WHAT WE NEED IN TERMS OF EVERYTHING ELSE THAT'S GOING ON ECONOMICALLY?
PMSH: Well, first of all, let me just put this in perspective. First of all, we're not spending money until 2016, right? That's when we start buying these planes, not for another five or six years. And that cost is the cost of these planes over a 40-year life expectancy. So, you know, it's not contributing to the deficit now and it's for a very long-term purchase of an asset.
Will we need them? Look, I know this. We've heard these arguments before whenever budgets are tight: "Does the military really need them? We don't need them today." Did we know we would be in Afghanistan ten years ago, twelve years ago? Did we know we would be in the Balkans? Did we know we were going to have the Gulf Wars? Did we see the end of the Cold War? We don't know these things, Peter.
What we do know is that the international situation will evolve. We don't know what the risks and the threats will be in the future, but we know there will be some. And we know the men and women in the Canadian Forces, air, land and sea, will be called upon to respond. And when they are, we want to make sure they have a range of good, flexible equipment so they can respond safely and do their jobs effectively. And if you look at the level of military spending we're maintaining in this country, if anything we may remain below where most of our allies are.
PM: LET ME TRY AND QUICKLY GO THROUGH A COUPLE OF THINGS.
PM: AS YOU MENTIONED EARLIER, YOU SAID YOU HAVEN'T BEEN ABLE TO DO ALL THE THINGS THAT YOU WANTED TO DO, GIVEN THE MINORITY SITUATION. LET'S ASSUME YOU WIND UP WITH A MAJORITY. THE GUN LAWS - WOULD THEY CHANGE ACCORDING TO THE WAY YOU WERE HOPING TO CHANGE THEM?
PMSH: Well, the thing that would change, Peter, is we would abolish the long gun registry. We've been very clear about that. Would we abolish licensing for gun owners? Absolutely not. Would we abolish screening to ensure that the violent and dangerous can't get their hands on guns? Absolutely not. Would we take away a registration of restricted handguns? No. The core of our gun laws are supported by most gun owners. It is just the extreme that [it] went to in the last few years with the long gun registry that people want to see change.
PM: WOULD YOU RE-OPEN THE ABORTION ISSUE?
PMSH: No, no. Look, Peter, I have spent my political career trying to stay out of that issue. It's one on which people, including in my own party, have passionate views. They're all over the map. And you know, what I say to people, as you know, many people I know are pro-life. What I say to people, if you want to diminish the number of abortions, you've got to change hearts and not laws. And I'm not interested in having a debate over abortion law.
PM: CAPITAL PUNISHMENT?
PMSH: I don't see the country wanting to do that. You know...
PM: YOU DON'T SOUND AS FIRM AS...
PMSH: Well, I personally think there are times where capital punishment is appropriate. 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.
PM: YOU'VE APPOINTED DOZENS OF SENATORS.
PMSH: I have.
PM: SENATE REFORM. WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH SENATE REFORM IF YOU HAD A MAJORITY?
PMSH: Well, we actually now for the first time just in the last couple of weeks, we now actually have a majority in the Senate itself. So I ...
PM: BECAUSE OF DOING SOMETHING YOU SAID YOU'D NEVER DO?
PMSH: Well, I preferred not to do. Look Peter, I went three years without - I think I appointed one or two senators, I didn't appoint anybody, but ultimately that didn't get us anywhere. So now I've appointed senators to pass our Senate reforms. And I want to limit the terms of senators. I think it's ridiculous that a senator could serve up to 45 years. And I want to have some kind of process where the public can choose their senator.
There are other things I'd like to see. But I'm committed to making - and you know I've been clear about this, I'm committed to making only incremental changes to the Senate that don't provoke large constitutional negotiations because the public doesn't want to get into that.
PM: WE'RE APPROACHING THE END OF THIS INTERVIEW. OVER THE FIVE YEARS, AS YOU KNOW, NOT A LOT HAS CHANGED IN THE WAY CANADIANS REGARD THEIR POLITICAL PARTIES IN TERMS OF THE POLLING NUMBERS.
PMSH: Has it ever?
PM: WELL ...
PMSH: You know Peter, it's funny, I always remember from my early days in politics people always talk about the Golden Age of Politics, when debate was civil and people looked at their political leaders on a high and mighty pedestal. But you know, I've read a lot of history and I've seen The Madness of King George and I think you can go back hundreds of years and the image of politics has pretty well always been the same.
PM: WELL, YOU BROUGHT IT UP. I STARTED WATCHING POLITICS FROM THE PRESS GALLERY IN THE 1970s: TRUDEAU, STANFIELD, DIEFENBAKER. THERE WAS LOTS OF CUT-AND-THRUST. BUT IT DID SEEM MORE CIVIL. THERE HAS BEEN KIND OF A STEPPING UP THROUGH THE DECADES. YOU KNOW, IT GOT KIND OF NASTY IN THE EIGHTIES WITH THE LIBERAL RAT PACK. IN THE NINETIES, IT HAD ANOTHER TONE THAT KIND OF TOOK ON A DISMISSIVE ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE OPPOSITION PARTIES. AND ONE COULD ARGUE THAT IT'S REACHED EVEN ANOTHER LEVEL THROUGH THESE LAST FEW YEARS.
PMSH: I don't know. I thought our first minority parliament was difficult for tone and I thought it got progressively worse to the point as, you know, where I called an election because I thought that really that Parliament had become...
PMSH: ...well, not able to pass anything. You know, some in the Opposition took the view they could just block everything. We had the coalition issue. I think once that's cleared away, I think in this Parliament, not been perfect by any means, but I actually think the tone has been better and I think its productivity has been better. Now, that doesn't mean it will stay that way. Minority parliaments are challenges.
PM: SO YOU THINK THERE'S LESS KIND OF PARTISAN RHETORIC, CROSSING OVER THE LINE?
PMSH: Well, there's always ... there's always partisan rhetoric.
PM: WELL, THE KIND OF OVER THE LINE STUFF THAT WE'VE SEEN FROM BOTH SIDES.
PMSH: Well, you know I thought particularly the last few months, I thought Parliament was actually, in the fall, pretty productive - pretty well behaved for the most part. Do I like everything that's said to me in Question Period each day? No, but that's part of being Prime Minister.
PM: OKAY, WELL THE POINT I WAS GOING TO TRY TO GET TO, ACCEPTING YOUR POINT THAT PERHAPS NOT A LOT'S CHANGED, BUT IN TERMS OF THE NUMBERS, THERE HASN'T SEEMED TO BE A BREAKOUT FOR EITHER SIDE THROUGH THIS MINORITY PERIOD. AND THOSE WHO CLAIM TO BE EXPERTS ON THIS SAY PART OF THE ISSUE IS THAT MANY CANADIANS STILL EITHER WORRY ABOUT WHAT YOU MIGHT DO IF YOU HAD A MAJORITY, OR THEY FEEL A CERTAIN COOLNESS FROM YOU TOWARDS THEM. WHAT DO YOU SAY ABOUT THAT?
PMSH: Well, look Peter, time will tell. My own sense is Canadians have gotten comfortable with this government. 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.
That's my sense. Every time people tell me - and you're making a form of a glass ceiling argument, I've heard it before. I can recall when I was running for leader of the Alliance,I was told I had a glass ceiling of 10%.
I remember when we first merged the parties, famous articles by the very experts you're citing saying the new party and my leadership had a glass ceiling of 20%. These were running in late 2003, early 2004.
Then, of course, we crossed those barriers and we could never form a government and we could never be re-elected, we could never cross 30%. We did.
So, look, I'm optimistic but my real concern is the following. We're in a difficult global economy. I think we've come through it pretty well. But it is still very challenging. And I've been very frank with Canadians. In spite of the good job creation numbers, there are a lot of threats to the Canadian economy in terms of what's happening globally.
We cannot take our eye off the ball. I want to see this recovery through so that we truly come out of it in a good position. And that is really my focus, and if we're forced into an election, we are. But that's not what I'm worried about these days.
PM: WELL, IF ANYTHING, WE HAVE SEEN A DIFFERENT SIDE OF YOU IN THE LAST YEAR. EVERYTHING FROM THE ROCK STAR TO THE HOCKEY DAD SITTING ON THE COUCH WITH THE FAMILY, WATCHING THE FINAL. BUT NOBODY GOT A CHANCE TO SEE, LIKE, WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU IN THE THIRD PERIOD.
PM: THE CAMERAS HAD GONE. I MEAN, MOST CANADIANS WERE THROWING THINGS AT THE TELEVISION SET BY THEN. HOW DID YOU HANDLE IT?
PMSH: Well, can I talk about the first topic and then I'll get to the hockey game? Look, let me just say about that - I'm glad people enjoy some of the musical performances I've done. For me that's a bit of a victory. I've always known, you know, I can do these things, but to actually go into it and have some fun doing it - that's one of the opportunities in this job that, you know, I'm glad I took advantage of.
In terms of the hockey game, Peter, I mean we were all disappointed. I told people, I'll be frank with you, I told people that I was worried late in the second period.
PM: IS THAT WHEN YOU ORDERED THE CAMERAS OUT?
PMSH: I think they left after the first goal. But I was worried late in the second. I've coached a little bit of hockey. I don't purport to be an expert on it but I've coached a little bit. And I could see the momentum changing. And I could also sense that the Canadian players weren't themselves seeing the momentum shifting.
As soon as the Russians scored that first goal, I thought we were in big trouble. It's a learning experience. We forget how young these guys are, eh? You know - 17, 18, 19. These are young guys, they played their hearts out, they had a great performance up to that time and it's too bad for us and for them.
But I think it will be a great learning experience and I think some day they'll be playing those guys, most of them will be playing on a Team Canada and an Olympics or a World Cup, and because of that experience they'll be the gold medalists.
PM: WELL, HOCKEY CAN BE LIKE POLITICS - IT'S NOT OVER 'TIL IT'S OVER.
PMSH: That's right.
PM: DO WE HAVE AN ELECTION THIS YEAR DO YOU THINK?
PM: WHAT IS YOUR GUT FEELING?
PMSH: My gut tells me I don't know. It's 50/50. We take the threats from the Opposition very seriously. I don't think it's in the country's interest, I don't think it makes any sense to have one right now, but if we're forced into one, we'll be ready.
PM: PRIME MINISTER, THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.
PMSH: Thanks, Peter.
End of interview