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In Depth

The 39th Parliament

Harper's priorities

Last Updated April 3, 2006

Stephen Harper. (Canadian Press)

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

Almost two weeks before he was sworn in as prime minister, Harper told a news conference that he remained committed to the five main priorities set out during the campaign:

  • A new Federal Accountability Act to police ethics among politicians on Parliament Hill.
  • A drop in the GST from seven per cent to six, as well as other promised tax cuts.
  • Making changes to the justice system to get tougher on those who commit gun crimes.
  • A "Choice in child care" program to give parents $1,200 a year for each child under age six.
  • Negotiations with the provinces over addressing the fiscal imbalance with Ottawa and and bringing in wait-time guarantees for health care.

He repeated that commitment in the weeks after he was sworn in. Harper said that even with a minority, the Commons should be able to deal with his government's five priorities.

"Minority governments are never easy," he told reporters. "But all parties recognize that Canadians have chosen the second minority Parliament in less than two years and they want us to get to work on delivering change, and we will work to deliver that change."

Harper pledged to begin negotiations immediately on fixing 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 federal equalization formula.

On Feb. 24, Harper and the premiers met for dinner and discussions at 24 Sussex Drive. The meeting came days after he sent letters notifying them that he would cancel the $5 billion in day-care agreements they signed with the previous Liberal government. It was billed a "getting-to-know-you" session - and not the beginning of talks on the fiscal imbalance.

It may not be until the government's first budget that more of the details of Harper's priorities will be known. The federal government usually releases a budget in the spring, in order to give provincial governments an idea of what to expect.

(There is 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 - in spring and fall.)

The promised GST reduction can likely happen by order-in-council, if a budget is not tabled soon after Parliament opens, as could measures to increase the tax rate on the lowest income 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.

Hours before Parliament officially opened on April 3, 2006, Harper told a receptive audience at a meeting of the Canadian Professional Police Association that his government would move quickly to introduce legislation that would impose mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes as well as those convicted of running marijuana grow-ops. He said his justice package would also abolish the faint hope clause and replace statutory release with "earned parole."

Harper also pledged to introduce a national DNA bank of all convicted sex and dangerous offenders, a zero tolerance for all forms of child pornography, and a nation-wide awareness campaign to discourage young Canadians from getting hooked on drugs. His government, he said, would not re-introduce Liberal legislation that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.

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