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Canada Files: Harper's Age of Majority

Christopher Sands

Following an election victory on May 2, 2011that gave the Conservative Party 166 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been heading his first majority government for one full year. Many Canadian observers thought that with a majority government, Harper would throw caution to the wind and show his true colors as a right-wing ideologue. But has he?

For the past several days, pundits and commentators have rendered a mixed—and contradictory—judgment of the Harper majority. John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail gave a lengthy appraisal of the prime minister’s record, and found him to have pursued a kind of conservative nationalism that emphasized ties to the British (and Canadian) monarchy, sports success, and military heroism that made many Canadians proud and had attracted support from immigrant communities that formerly voted for the Liberal Party.

Writing in the National Post, Andrew Coyne criticized Harper as governing timidly—as though he was still leading a minority government—afraid to push for conservative principles now that he has the chance. Maclean’s Magazine‘s Aaron Wherry was similarly underwhelmed, even though he noted that Stephen Harper marked the anniversary of his government in the House of Commons with a speech that bragged of transformational change to Canada as a result of his government’s efforts.

Last month, the New Democratic Party selected Quebec Member of Parliament Thomas Mulcair to replace the late Jack Layton as party leader and, due to the NDP’s 101 seats in the House of Commons, Mulcair is now the Leader of the Official Opposition. For the first time in nearly a year, Harper faces a sharp debater and articulate critic in the Commons who lost no time in debunking Harper’s claims of achievements during the past 12 months.

Canadians will continue to debate whether the past year under Harper’s majority government has been a shift to the right or just to a whiter shade of pale. The challenge from Mulcair and an NDP surging in the polls will make the answer to this question central to Canadian politics in the years to come.

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