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Harper’s Canada: A Conservative government policy fact sheet

Having trouble keeping track of what Canada's federal government is up to? This is the first part in our series outlining key events and issues that have defined Canadian politics over the past several months.

Photo of Prime Minister Stephen Harper by Ewa Chruscicka

A lot has happened during the past year in Canadian politics and current affairs. Canadians are increasingly speaking up about federal policies. Environmental issues have taken centre stage as the debates heat up over resource development projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline. And threats to democracy are raising concern among citizens and experts from coast to coast.

While individual events may seem less consequential when considered alone, when combined they paint a troubling picture. To help illustrate the country's social and political shift, we've put together a series of fact sheets to outline some of the key events and decisions that have brought us to where we are today.

Conservatives rule at the national level and control the agenda

  • Stephen Harper became Prime Minister with a minority government in 2006
  • He was the first PM to lead with the new Conservative Party, after the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance parties merged (“unite the right” campaign)
  • Harper won a stronger minority in the 2008 election, with the formerly governing Liberal Party as the official opposition
  • March 2011 - parliament was dissolved after opposition parties passed a no-confidence vote, and the Harper government was in found to be in contempt of parliament


  • May 2, 2011 - In the federal election, Harper won a majority with just over 39% of popular vote
  • Out of 308 total seats in House of Commons, 155 are needed for a majority
  • The splitting of votes on the left meant that Conservatives could succeed in a first-past-the-post system where “winner takes all”
  • 61 per cent of Canadians voted against Harper, but he still got a majority
  • Conservatives won 166 seats, up from 143 previously held (approx. 39 per cent of the popular vote)
  • NDP won 103 seats, up from 36 previously held (30 per cent of popular vote)
  • Liberals fell to 34 seats, from a previous 77 (18 per cent of popular vote)


  • Having a majority means the governing party can easily pass legislation and maintain confidence of the House of Commons (legislation must still be debated in House + receive Senate approval, but with a majority it’s much easier to get things passed)
  • Now there’s a renewed movement urging for strategic cooperation on the left, as a way to defeat Harper and pass electoral reform
  • NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen has championed the idea through his campaign—the only candidate supporting the idea
  • Over 15,500 signatures on a Leadnow petition to encourage parties to cooperate 


Redefining “Canadianism”

  • Critics say Harper's government is slowly chipping away at what people abroad used to appreciate about Canada (healthcare, progressive policies, environmental leadership)
  • The change is evident in things like the immigration handbook, given to new immigrants to familiarize them with Canadian custom
  • Former handbook emphasized social programs like healthcare and education as well as Canadian values, multiculturalism, etc. (created by former Liberal governments)
  • The new version of the book, created by the Conservatives, emphasizes monarchy, military
  • The Prime Minister’s Office has also been “re-branding” the Canadian government as the “Harper Government” in federal documents and communications
  • Reports revealed a directive from the PMO to replace “Government of Canada” with “Harper Government” on communications materials


For more on “Harper’s Canada”, read VO’s other cheat sheets:

Harper’s Canada: An environmental policy cheat sheet
Harper’s Canada: A public safety and privacy cheat sheet
Harper’s Canada: A local and provincial politics cheat sheet
Harper’s Canada: Threats to democracy

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