Domestic policy of the Harper government
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Several policies regarding interior and domestic issues in Canada were planned and adopted by the Canadian Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, following the January 23, 2006 election of the Conservative Party to a minority of seats in the House of Commons, such as social and environmental policies. At the beginning of the government's appointment, five policy priorities were identified in the areas of federal accountability, tax reform, crime, child care and health care.
- 1 Economic policy
- 2 Environment
- 3 Agriculture
- 4 Social policy
- 5 Interior security
- 6 Health policy
- 7 Education
- 8 The Federal Accountability Act
- 9 National unity
- 10 Parliamentary reform
- 11 Supreme Court appointments
- 12 Other
- 13 See also
- 14 Footnotes
The first federal budget of the Conservative government was released on May 2, 2006, by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. The budget included a 1% cut to the federal Goods and Services Tax from 7% to 6%.
The Conservatives argued that the GST cuts would benefit all Canadians, including low-income earners and those outside the workforce who do not pay income tax. The first GST cut went into effect on July 1, 2006, and no provinces have raised provincial sales tax yet. In addition, the Conservatives rolled back the income tax cut on the lowest tax bracket, restoring it back to 15.5% from 15%, increased and added tax exemption rates and introduced a $100 monthly child care allowance for families with children at or under the age of six. The Liberals and NDP voiced disapproval over the Conservatives following through on their election promise to replace the Liberal's proposed child care policy with their own, and for replacing Canada's $4 billion environmental policy with a $2 billion Conservative plan. The budget passed third reading without dissent on June 6, 2006 when the members of the Opposition accidentally failed to stand after the Deputy Speaker of the House called for debate.
Later during the fiscal year, in the face of record corporate conversions to income trusts Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced a new tax on income trusts. The government postponed the tax from taking effect until 2011 for existing trusts. The government argued that it could now allow giant corporations to convert as proposed by BCE for its Bell Canada subsidiary, "...a move that would save it $800 million in tax by 2008." Subsequent to the October 31 announcement by Flaherty, the TSX Capped Energy Trust Index lost 21.8% in market value and the TSX Capped Income Trust Index lost 17.6% in market value by mid November 2006. In contrast, the TSX Capped REIT Index, which is exempt from the 'Tax Fairness Plan', gained 3.2% in market value. According to the Canadian Association of Income Funds, this translates into a permanent loss in savings of $30 billion to Canadian Income Trust Investors . Harper later mentioned that this was "the toughest decision for the government". The Canadian Press voted the Harper Government and Jim Flaherty 'Business Newsmaker of 2006' for the announcement to tax Income Trusts on Halloween.
The budget was met with dissent by the Liberal and New Democratic parties and mostly positive reception from the Bloc. The Liberals and NDP voiced disapproval over the Conservatives following through on their election promise to replace the Liberals child care policy with their own, and for replacing Canada's $4 billion environmental policy with a $2 billion "made in Canada" plan of their design. The budget was met with widespread support amongst the business community and polling indicated that a clear majority of Canadians approved of the budget. While it initially appeared that the only way the Conservatives' budget would pass would be with the support of the Bloc Québécois, the budget passed third reading without dissent on June 6, 2006 when the members of the Opposition accidentally failed to stand after the Deputy Speaker of the House called for debate. Because there were no speakers for the Opposition, the budget was declared passed with unanimous support and no recorded vote and thus forwarded to the Senate for approval. This marked the first time in Canadian Parliamentary history where a government's budget passed unanimously on the third and final reading. On September 25, 2006, the Conservative government announced that within the fiscal year, there was a $13.2 billion surplus that will be used to pay down the country's debt.
Finance Minister Flaherty presented the second budget of the Conservative government on March 19, 2007. While no income tax and GST cuts were announced, various tax credits and exemptions were announced including a tax credit (of up to $310 per child) for some families with children under 18. Another major announcement was the enrichment of the transfers to provinces in an effort to deal with the so-called "fiscal imbalance". The budget passed the House of Commons with the support of the Bloc Québécois due to additional funds that the province of Quebec received thanks to the enriched equalization transfers. Reactions from provinces were mixed but several provinces criticized that measure including Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams arguing that Harper broke a written promise to shield revenues from oil and natural gas from being included in equalization formulas. Mr. Harper has denied this and accused Williams of misinforming the province, insisting that he has not reneged on his promise since the new formula yields the province greater funding despite the inclusion of natural resource revenues. .
On October 30, 2007, the Conservatives tabled an economic statement (similar to a mini-budget) and announced various tax cuts and exemptions. Overall, the budget included a total of $60 billion in tax cuts over five years including $14 billion in corporate tax cuts by 2012 (or a drop of 33%), accelerated their promised further 1% drop of the GST (to 5%) and increased the basic personal tax exemption to $10,100 per year by 2009. The lowest personal tax rate was reduced from 15.5% to 15% retroactively effective 1 January 2007, reversing the rollback effected in the 2006 budget.
During the Throne Speech in 2007, Harper also addressed issues surrounding the economy because of difficulties in the manufacturing and forest sectors due to the loss of numerous jobs at several companies including the three major automakers in the United States and several small to large forest companies over the past few years. On January 10, 2008, the government announced a $1 billion relief fund for single-industry communities that were hit hard by recent closures particularly in the forest and manufacturing industries but also the fishing sector.
The third Conservative budget was tabled on February 26, 2008. The government announced there would be little to no new tax breaks as major tax cuts took place in the economic update during the fall of 2007 in anticipation of economic slowdowns in 2008. It was to be the last budget of the Conservative government's first term in office. Among the key announcements was the creation of a new $5000/year tax-free savings account (TFSA), funding for troubled manufacturing and forestry industries, a new Student Grant Program, higher defense spending, $500 million for transit and infrastructures and $400 million for hiring new police officers. The TFSA was touted as a badly needed addition to the Canadian tax system as it did not make sense for low income earners and seniors to make use of existing savings programs with tax incentives, such as RRSPs. In contrast, the TFSA could be used by such demographics to enjoy savings with tax benefits.
The fourth Conservative budget was tabled on January 27, 2009, earlier than scheduled because of a Parliament dispute during the Fall of 2008 and the threat of a coalition between the NDP and the Liberal Party. Flaherty announced $40 billion in economic stimulus including income tax cuts and various tax credits as well as funding for infrastructure. The budget also forecast an $85 billion deficit for the next five years including $64 billion for the next two years. However the deficit was much larger for 2009 than was originally reported in the budget, by September 10, 2009 the deficit had reached 55.9 billion dollars. It is estimated the deficit over the next 5 or more years will be double what was originally reported in the 2009 budget, adding about 170 billion dollars to the Canadian debt.
The Harper government's 2012 budget was criticized because of cuts to health care, the old age security, environmental protection and because of the expansion of $6 billion in corporate tax cuts for corporations, banks, and oil companies.
Harper and the Conservative government criticized the Kyoto Accord on measures to fight against global warming, saying that the economy would be crippled if Canada was forced to meet the Accord's timetable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Harper considered the objectives implemented by Canada to meet its goals unrealistic despite Canada signing the protocol in 2002.
The government's Clean Air Act was presented on October 19, 2006. Its main focus was to reduce greenhouse emissions to about 45-65% of the 2003 levels. The goal was set for the year 2050 with a decrease of greenhouse emissions starting in 2020. There were also regulations set for vehicle fuel consumption for 2011, while new measures would be set for industries starting in 2010. while oil companies would be forced to reduce emissions for each barrel produced. Additional targets and measures were introduced by Environment Minister John Baird in 2007 including fuel-efficient standards in which auto industries would comply. One of the plans also mentioned that over 700 big-polluter companies, including oil and gas, pulp and paper, electricity and iron and steel companies, will have to reduce green-house emissions by six percent from 2008 to 2010 and will have to report data on their emissions every year, on May 31.
In the 2007 Throne Speech, the government officially abandoned the Kyoto objectives in favor of their previous policies and accords with Asian and Pacific countries in which Harper joined the US-led Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. On September 24, 2007, the United States, China, Japan, India, South Korea and Australia, several among them being the biggest polluters.
Critics including the World Wildlife Fund said that the greenhouse emissions in 2020 will still be higher than the 1990 levels, while Canada will not meet Kyoto targets before 2025, 13 years after its objectives. High-profile figures including David Suzuki and Former US Vice-President Al Gore also criticized the plan as being insufficient.
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Opposition members led by Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez tabled bill C-288, which would force the government to respect the measures of the Kyoto Accord and forced it to present its measures within 60 days. The bill passed third reading on February 14, 2007, 161-113 but the government said that it would not comply.
The Harper government also has drawn sharp international criticism for its stance on asbestos which is heavily mined in Quebec. In 2011, Canada continued to oppose adding the chrysotile form of asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention, a treaty that would require exports of chrysotile to developing countries to contain warnings of carcinogenicity.Canada refuses to allow chrysotile to be added to Rotterdam Convention in 2011
Aid for farmers
In 2006, farmers demanded substantial aid from the federal government to be able to cope with a 2005 World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling that abolished subsidies and other trade barriers in the agriculture industry before 2013.
The farmers, especially from the Ottawa region drove their tractors to Parliament Hill, as well as oil and food terminals across Ottawa and in front of the Prime Minister's residence to voice their concerns.
In the 2006 budget, the Conservatives announced an immediate $1.5 billion aid to farmers for the Grains and Oilseeds Payment Program. Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl also announced in July $550 million in aid to low-income farmers with a two-year pilot project 
On March 9, 2007, the government announced $1 billion in funding for farmers that would include payments to ease effects of high production costs and for various income programs.
Strahl also planned to review the roles of the Canadian Wheat Board, a monopoly in the Canadian wheat industry. He wanted to end the "single desk" system which causes the monopoly, despite the opposition of farmers which supported the current role of the Board.
Age of consent
The Conservative Government raised the legal age of consent to 16 years. Justice Minister Vic Toews proposed the bill in order to protect youth against sexual predators. The Tackling Violent Crime Act took effect on 1 May 2008, making the current age of consent 16. A close in age exemption allows teenagers aged 14 and 15 to engage in sexual acts with partners who are less than 5 years older than them. Before this law, the age of consent was 14 (it had been set at 14 in 1890, before that date it was 12).
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During the 2006 election campaign, Stephen Harper promised a free vote to revisit the issue of same-sex marriage which had been legalized in 2005 by the previous government. The vote took place on December 7, 2006: the government bill to change the status quo was rejected 175-123. Afterwards Harper told the media that he now considered the issue to be closed and that he would not pursue further legislation on the matter.
There were also plans to pass a law that would protect "freedom of religious expression", a law interpreted by some as a shield for opponents of same-sex marriage. The government cut funding to various social programs and festivals, some of which were related to the gay community such as Montreal's Black and Blue Festival, one of the biggest gay festivals in Canada. The Harper government also reduced spending for women's advocacy work on the status of women in the country.
In the 2006 budget, the Tories introduced a new child care allowance that gives parents with children under six years of age an allowance of $1200 per year, which is taxable in the hands of the lower income parent. The allowance is not tied to actual child care expenses, and is available to all parents, regardless of whether or not they use childcare services. The measures have cost the government about $3.7 billion per year. This plan replaced the Liberal government's plan announced in the 2005 budget under Paul Martin who committed $5 billion over five years to enhance and expand early learning and child care in collaboration with provinces and territories. After March 2007, the newly elected Conservatives under Stephen Harper eliminated the bilateral agreements as their first act of power. The child care plan agreements were based on Quebec's universal child care model and had been signed under Paul Martin's Liberal government with several provinces in 2005. The plan was cancelled when they took office and was replaced by the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) $100-a-month cheques for parents with young children with promised tax credits for private or profit care and up to $250 million annually to create child care spaces across the country.
This measure was met with opposition by the child care sector and national child care not-for-profit organizations as well as the provincial counterparts including Ontario's Dalton McGuinty and Quebec's Premier Jean Charest. They claimed that it would not create additional daycare places which Minister Diane Finley promised. Quebec officials also cited that it will harm provincial revenues and deteriorate fiscal equality. Other opponents mentioned that the spending was not adequate and did not address the need for child care spaces, particularly in urban centers. Supporters argued that the Liberal program the Tories replaced was inflexible and discriminated against stay-at-home parents. Harper has stated that his government will work with provincial and local governments, not-for-profit organizations, and employers to create additional spaces, and has set aside $250 million per year to fund these initiatives.
In September 2006, Minister Diane Finley, announced the creation of a Ministerial Advisory Committee on the Government of Canada's Child Care Spaces Initiative that would provide advice on the approach and mechanisms needed to create child care spaces and allocate the $250 million promised. Contrary to the recommendations of the report, to increase the supply of quality child care spaces and make child care more affordable for working parents, the Conservatives redirected the $250 million a year it had set aside for the Community Child Care Investment Program to provincial and territorial governments. And while Harper stated, that his government will work with provincial and local governments, not-for-profit organizations, and employers to create additional spaces, key national child care organizations such as the Canadian Child Care Federation, show no funding or program activity in their annual reports from federal departments. Since 2008, child care and ealry childhood development non-profits such as Invest in Kids, the Council for Early Childhood Development and Child Care Human Resources Sector Council have all closed doors after decades of operation.
Poverty and homelessness
On December 19, 2006, the government announced $526 million of funding to tackle poverty and homelessness in Canada with $270 million for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy and $246 million for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. It will provide funding for refurbishing and renovating low-income homes, as well as improving access for homeless people to various services and supports such as health and substance abuse treatment programs. Prior to the announcement, activists protested at Human Resources and Social Services Minister Diane Finley's offices in Ottawa.
The Conservative Party tabled about $9 billion for aboriginals in 2006-07 but with few measures announced in the 2007 budget. On March 22, 2007, a private bill was tabled in the House of Commons demanding an additional $5.1 billion for First Nations health, education and housing. The motion was adopted 176 to 126 with mainly Conservative members voting against. Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice mentioned that it will ignore the motion that would have forced the government to implement measures in order to respect the Kelowna Accord which was concluded by the Liberals in 2005 prior to the 2006 elections and supported by former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. The Accord was supposed to give First Nations better health care, education and housing, but it lacked specific implementation details. In the 2008 budget, $330 million was announced for improving access to safe drinking water in First Nations Reserves with funding for economic improvement, services and health programs.
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On June 11, 2008, Harper made a speech at the House of Commons in which he issued an official apology to the First Nation groups in regard to a residential school abuse in which children were isolated from their homes, families and cultures for a century. Opposition leaders also issued apologies. Harper admitted the responsibility of the wrongdoing of the government: "The Government of Canada now recognizes it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes... to separate children from rich and vibrant traditions" 
The Conservatives' 2007 budget included $19 million to introduce an ombudsman's office and Veterans' Bill of Rights. In April 2007, Harper and Minister of Veterans Affairs Greg Thompson told the press in Kitchener, Ontario that the bill of rights would come into effect soon. $282 million were announced in the 2008 budget to support war veterans.
Apology to Chinese-Canadians
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On June 23, 2006, Stephen Harper offered full apology to Chinese Canadians for the country's treatment of Chinese immigrants during the years 1885 to 1923 on the imposing Head Tax policy to them, and subsequent discrimination policies, including subsequent exclusion of Chinese immigrants from 1923 until 1947. It is estimated about 82,000 Chinese paid the fee, first set at $50 and later raised to $500, about two years' wages at the time. For many years, the federal government refused to apologize, citing the possibilities of legal liabilities.
Near the end of 2005, the outgoing Liberal government offered to pay $12.5 million for the creation of a new non-profit foundation to educate Canadians about anti-Chinese discrimination, though no money would go to individuals who had paid the tax, and the grant was on the pre-condition of "no apology" by the government. It was met with controversy, as the Liberals had not consulted many of the major Canadian-Chinese groups (despite claiming to), and as the promised amount was reduced to $2.5 million. Midway through the election campaign, Paul Martin offered an apology on radio but not in Parliament.
Harper said that Chinese-Canadians who paid the tax or their surviving spouses will receive a symbolic $20,000 ex-gratia payment.
Consumer product safety
Following a series of products consumer due to safety and health concerns in 2007, the government adopted a series of measures to enhance and improve consumer product safety laws. In the new Canada Consumer Product Safety Act as well as amendments to the Food and Drug Act, measures included developing tighter manufacturing standards, mandatory reports by industries on any injuries, deaths or other problems on various products as well as more authority by the government to mandate recalls on various products. The government also announced higher fines for industries failing to the new laws as well as the increase number of inspections and inspectors.
In late-February 2008, the government announced its intention on amending the Income Tax Act which would suspend any tax credits to any film or television production which would include content judging too offensive to the general public. The Canadian Family Action Coalition had pushed the federal government for the funding cuts and is supported by the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party citing that governments should be careful about putting taxpayers money for movies with too much sexual content. The bill was met with opposition by the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists citing it has grave implication to the actors while calling it morally offensive to modern Canadian society. Canadian Actress Sarah Polley, added that the bill would amount to "censorship" and that the definition of offensive is "extremely vague and dangerous to be using". MP Jim Abbott cited that "the bill does nothing to obstruct filmmakers -- it just stops the government from footing bills for films that don't fall in line with Canadians' morals". Similar legislation was unanimously passed in 2003. Director Ang Lee has also spoken out on bill C-10. He stated that "“People should be free to say anything," though he himself has never been censored even under the Chinese film boards strict review process.
In March 2008 as part of the annual budget, the government introduced several laws to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The changes would have helped to streamline immigrant application back-up, to speed up application for skilled workers and to rapidly reject other ones that are judged not admissible by immigration officers. Immigrant applications had risen to a high of 500,000, creating a delay of up to six months for an application to be processed. The bill also provided more power to the Minister to set limits on the types of immigrants that can have their application processed. The government added that the reforms would have provided more skilled workers to the country. The opposition members criticized the measures because it would shut the door on immigrants while giving the Minister too much power to decide on who can enter Canada and others not. Trinity—Spadina MP Olivia Chow had proposed an amendment to remove the measures as part of the budget. Immigration Minister Diane Finley stated that the current government helped process applications 20 to 40 percent faster than before the measures were announced.
In early 2008, Conservative MP Ken Epp tabled private member's bill C-484 in which harming a fetus would constitute a crime. Opponents of the bill, including medical specialists in Quebec, alleged that the bill would open the door for an abortion ban. The bill passed first reading in March 2008 with the support of the opposition.
However, Harper has indicated that he did not wish to re-open the abortion debate.
In June 2008, Josée Verner (then the Minister responsible for Official Languages) announced that the government would invest about $1.1 billion until 2013 to promote the official languages in the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality 2008-2013. The plan was to facilitate cultural minority groups, most notably in education and health. Part of the plan comprised recommendations made by former New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord in a report on the state of official languages in Canada. The government also announced the support program for official languages which replaced an older judiciary program. The programme was followed by the Roadmap for Canada's Official Languages 2013-2018: Education, Immigration, Communities. 
Arts and Culture cuts
Prior to the start of the 2008 election campaign, Minister Josee Verner announced $45 million in cutbacks to arts and cultural programs. Harper explained that ordinary Canadians cannot relate to "rich galas" where artists complain about their subsidies. He also noted that the overall budget of Canadian Heritage has climbed eight per cent." Many actors across the country had criticized the move citing that the arts and culture industries represent over 1.1 million jobs in Canada and contributes to about $86 billion to its gross domestic product.
The Conservatives only elected 10 MPs in Quebec where the opposition against the cuts was the most imposing. It also prevented them from winning a majority government for the second straight election. James Moore who replaced Verner as Heritage Minister following the election stated that he had no plans to cancel the cutbacks citing the decisions made were in the past but added that there will be opportunities in the future to view the spending.
- For border security measures, see Foreign policy of the Harper government
On November 14, 2006, Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon announced an immediate $37 million investment on improving security in public transit systems across the country. Cannon said that transit systems are not immune to terrorist attacks like those that hit Madrid, London and Mumbai over the past two years. Toronto and Montreal received $11 million each, Ottawa $1.2 million while Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary also received a certain amount. The money will be used for security plans, public awarenesses and training. The Toronto Transit Commission and OC Transpo requested that the money would be spent on installing cameras inside buses. Subsequently it was revealed that while 40% of all transit users in Canada use the TTC, and 85% of Toronto transit riders use the TTC, it will only receive $1.46 million, with the remaining grant used for GO Transit and Union Station.
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The government promised to be tough on crime by imposing tougher sentences to people committing firearm offenses and violent crimes; a promise made by Harper after a record number of deaths by gun-related incidents in Toronto in 2005. They are also on the process of creating a new law that would impose tougher sentences for repeat crime offenders, eliminating house arrest or conditional sentences of offenders and a legislation targeting impaired drivers and street racing. Several anti-crime bills were progressing in the House but failed to pass the Senate as a new Throne Speech was announced for October 2007 in which several of the measures were re-announced. The new bill, called the Tackling Violent Crime Act (or Bill C-2), consisted of five bills many of them from cancelled legislations and included measures the age of consent, repeat and violent offenders. A confidence motion on the bill was tabled and passed the House 172-27 on February 12, 2008 as all Liberal MPs abstained from voting. The motion is set to presented at the Senate in March 2008 
On October 4, 2007, the government announced a new national drug plan, that would include mandatory jail sentences for drug trafficking offenses. In addition, the government announced funding for treatment and prevention, including a Prevention Campaign Program for youth. The government pledged about $64 million to fund the drug plan, and characterized the new policy as a balance between prevention and punishment. In 2006, the Conservatives had annulled a bill introduced by the Liberals which would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis. Cannabis-related arrests have increased significantly since.
In the 2008 budget, the government announced $400 million to help set up a Recruitment Fund in which it will help all provinces and territories to hire as much 2 500 police officers while additional funding was announced for jails.
On April 14, 2008 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the government introduced new legislatures in regards to car theft. The news laws would make illegal to tamper with vehicle identification numbers, would target organized group specialized in car and parts theft, chop shops and stolen property trafficking. According to the government, auto thefts are costing about $1.6 billion to Canadians. The city of Winnipeg has the highest number of cars stolen per population.
On February 26, 2009, the government announced in Vancouver, a new anti-gang legislation that would make gang-killing a first degree murder offense with mandatory minimum sentences for drive-by shootings of 4 years in prison except for 5 years if committed on behalf of a gang organization. In the weeks prior to the new bill, there were 18 shootings related to a gang war in the Greater Vancouver Area. Stiffer sentences of at least 14 years in jail for aggravated assault and assault with a weapon against a police officer were also announced. The following day, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson also announced minimum mandatory sentences for drug dealers and traffickers. According to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, one-year sentences would be given for marijuana drug dealing linked to organized crime, two-year sentences for hard drugs trafficking as well as a maximum of 14 years in prison for big pot grow-ups. Ironically, despite Stephen Harper's opposition to marijuana culture, in his last 3 years there has been more marijuana produced than any other time in Canada's history.
Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act
The House of Commons defeated a motion 159-124 to extend two provisions of the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act on February 28, 2007. The two provisions were created five years ago after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, but opposition parties criticized them as a violation of civil liberties. Those in favor of renewal argued that not renewing the provisions would compromise the security of Canadians. The two provisions expired on March 1, 2007
Since in power, the Conservatives had announced their intentions of significantly reforming or even abolishing the gun registry program implemented in 1995 citing the cost overruns of hundreds of million of dollars while the Tories also criticized the effectiveness of the registry to track every gun as well as being a nuisance for firearm owners. He added that: "Duck-hunters, farmers and law-abiding gun owners do not pose a threat to Canadians, criminals do". A report conducted by Auditor General Sheila Fraser estimated the costs at nearly $1 billion for the first 10 years of its implementation.
On June 19, 2006, the Conservatives introduced the bill to eliminate the program though it did not pass the House vote. It was re-introduced on November 16, 2007 but the motion failed again. On April 1, 2009, the Conservatives had planned to re-introduced again the legislation but in the Senate.
While not succeeding in abolishing the program, the government did reform part of the registry. Among the changes made by the Conservatives to the registry, it eliminated within the scope of the registry long guns such as rifles and shotguns, a move that expected to affect up to 320,000 people. It also waived some license fees and extended registry deadlines for long gun owners. Ontario's Attorney General Michael Bryant had criticized the amnesty move in 2007 accusing Ottawa of being "in the holster of the gun lobby. By 2008, the federal government had refunded up to $21 million in license fees to 340 000 gun owners.
Supporters of keeping the gun registry cited that better gun controls would prevent events such as the Dawson College shooting in 2006 and the Ecole Polytechnique massacre in 1989. One of the victims of the Dawson shooting also challenged Harper for a debate on gun control. Among the groups opposed to the Conservatives plan included the Canadian Auto Workers and the Quebec Women's Federation. A study from Swiss research group, Graduate Institute of International Studies, also cited, in a report called Small Arms Survey 2006, that maintaining the gun registry was more cost effective saving Canada up to $1.4 billion a year in costs associated with gun violence while citing a sharp decrease in the number of gun deaths and injuries.
During the 41st Parliament the newly formed Conservative majority government again introduced legislation to repeal the requirement to register non-restricted firearms and to destroy the registry database. Bill C-19 passed both the House and Senate and received royal assent on April 5, 2012.
For the policy on AIDS see Foreign Policy of the Harper government
Patient Wait Times Guarantee
The conservative government promised to introduce a "Patient Wait Times Guarantee" in conjunction with the provinces. Harper has recently been criticized by prominent media figures, such as Paul Wells, for downplaying this fifth and final priority.
On January 11, 2007, Harper announced a $2.6 million pilot project involving a network of 16 pediatric hospitals across the nation. The plan is to monitor wait times in various children's hospitals and in the long range, surgery wait times. Similar existing measures have been implemented in the post by several provincial governments. Critics mentioned that the federal government had interfered in provincial jurisdictions while Ontario's Intergovermental Affairs Minister Marie Bountrogianni cited the deal as a "photo-op" and an insignificant contribution to the health system. Previously, on January 5, 2007, the government also launched a similar pilot project worth $3.7 million for guaranteed wait times for aboriginal people from First Nations reserves in Manitoba who have "diabetes related-foot ulcers and possible amputations" 
On April 4, 2007, a deal between Ottawa and the 13 provinces and territories was concluded in which guaranteed wait times will be implemented country-wide by two measures including funding for provinces to reach the goal. $612 million were given to the provinces during the 2007 federal budget. Health information and communication technologies were part of the second measure which included the participation of a non-profit organization, the Canada Health Infoway which will improve medical information notably for doctors.
Canadian Partnership Against Cancer
On November 24, 2006, Harper announced the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, a 5-year $260 million national plan on battling different types of cancer. This not-for-profit organization will be monitored and evaluated by Health Canada. Prior to that announcement on October 23, Health Minister Tony Clement also launched an 8.4 million dollar heart health strategy that plans to tackle the issue of heart diseases and other related issues.
On December 8, 2006, the government announced plan to crack down on the usage of toxic chemicals. The plan is worth an estimated $300 million over four years and would either eliminate, control or reduce some of the more hazardous toxic chemicals in order to protect the environment and the health and safety of Canadians, particularly in workplaces, as well as animals. The plan is a follow-up to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act that had previously named and targeted a series of dangerous substances.
Tainted blood scandal
On December 15, 2006, the government announced that it will officially compensate victims of a tainted blood scandal in which thousands of people were affected by Hepatitis C (during blood transfusions) before 1986 and after 1990. Those affected between 1986 and 1990 had already received the compensation in 1998. The amount of this deal was estimated at about $1 billion.
During the 2008 federal budget, the government announced the creation of a new $350 million Student Grant Program for post-secondary students. The plan replaced the Millennium Scholarship Fund introduced in the late 1990s. Additional funding was announced for improvement other programs such as Canadian Student Loan Program.
The Federal Accountability Act
On April 11, 2006, President of the Treasury Board John Baird, on behalf of the Canadian government, tabled the Federal Accountability Act and Action Plan. The plan will reduce the opportunity to exert influence with money by banning corporate, union, and large personal political donations; five-year lobbying ban on former ministers, their aides, and senior public servants; providing protection for whistleblowers; and enhancing the power for the Auditor General to follow the money spent by the government.
While the government hopes to have this act passed before the House of Commons breaks for the summer, questions have arisen surrounding elements of the Federal Accountability Act and how it might affect the 2006 Liberal leadership convention. A $1,000 donation limit has been proposed as part of the Federal Accountability Act with political party convention donations being tied to this amount. The Liberal Party of Canada's leadership convention scheduled for December 2006 contains a $995 convention fee, which under the proposed Accountability Act could prevent convention delegates from donating anything beyond their convention fee or prevent the delegate's presence at the convention should their convention fee in conjunction with any donations prior to the convention put them above the donation limit. Some of the Senate majority-holding Liberal Senators have threatened to stall the Federal Accountability Act in the upper chamber until after December because of the effect the proposed donation limits may have on political party conventions.
On March 13, 2008, Justice John Gomery, who had led the commission into the federal sponsorship scandal, told the government operations Committee that most of the recommendations he made in his report were still not implemented. He added that the prime minister's office was "developing a dangerous concentration of power" and that certain members such as non-elected officials are gaining more power while less-known MPs have little influence. He cited that the government's Federal Accountability Act was drafted well before its report and was short of what was required.
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After sidestepping the political landmine for most of his first year in office, much as all of the post-Charlottetown Accord Prime Ministers had done, Harper reopened the debate on November 22, 2006, by introducing a motion in the House of Commons to recognize the Québécois as a "nation within Canada." His hand was forced after the opposition Bloc Québécois were to introduce a motion that called for recognition of Quebec as a "nation", but not within Canada. The Bloc later modified partly his motion and later decided to support the Conservative motion, which was greeted by Parti Québécois Leader Andre Boisclair and by Quebec Premier Minister Jean Charest. However, Intergovermental Minister Michael Chong said he didn't want the country's unity to be compromised and divided. He resigned his Cabinet position on November 27 over the matter, ahead of a vote on the motion which passed first reading in the House of Commons 266 to 16. It also rejected a Bloc Québécois amendment that did not have mention of Canada.
Fixed election dates
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In 2007, parliament passed the government's bill that would set election dates on the third Monday in October of the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election. The act, however, did not touch the governor general's prerogative to dissolve parliament or call elections, as such is a constitutional matter. Thus, the prime minister may advise such a move whenever he or she feels is prudent. The first election after the bill was made law did not occur on the fixed election date; Harper argued that he had to advise an election be called because the minority parliament had become dysfunctional.
|Wikinews has related news: Canadians to elect senate for first time|
During the 2006 election, Harper had promised that he would push for a major reform in the Canadian Senate, one of the main objectives of the former Reform Party, promising that senators would be elected. On December 13, 2006, Harper introduced a bill that would "bring democracy" to the Senate and, on September 7, 2006, he became the first Canadian prime minister to appear before a Senate committee and was present to make his government's case for Senate reform. Critics, though, believed that it would require an amendment to the constitution.
With one notable exception, he, as prime minister, refused to advise any appointments to the Senate pending such reforms. This resulted in 16 Senate vacancies by the time the Conservative Party won a minority in the October 2008 election.
The one notable exception was Michael Fortier: When Harper first took office, he resorted to the appointment of Michael Fortier to both the Senate and the Cabinet, arguing the government needed representation for the city of Montreal. Although this is not without precedence in the Westminster system, this led to many criticisms given the Reform Party's position supporting an elected Senate. In 2008, Fortier gave up his Senate seat and sought election as a Member of Parliament, but, was, in the words of Canadian Press, "trounced." Upon re-election in 2008, Harper named Senate reform again as a priority.
On December 11, 2008, it was reported that Harper would fill all 18 Senate vacancies with Conservative Party affiliates. This was to prevent a possible coalition government from filling the vacancies, which at the time seemed imminent. The reports were confirmed on December 22, 2008 that Harper had filled all of the senate vacancies with Conservatives. On the August 27th, 2009, Harper again directed the Governor General to fill Senate vacancies with nine more Conservative senators; Harper claimed that the Senate could not function properly with the vacancies and the new senators would help the Conservative Party's legislation pass more easily.
On November 5, 2007, Harper supported a motion made by the NDP to organize a referendum that would decide the fate of the Senate, including the possibility of abolishing it, as Jack Layton described it as "outdated institution that has no place in a modern democracy". However, experts said that the NDP-Conservative plan would likely fail, with a historian indicating that it would be impossible to pass the motion with a Liberal-majority Senate, and to have an amendment to the constitution accepted by the majority of the provinces.
Supreme Court appointments
Aside from his legislative agenda, Harper put forward Marshall Rothstein to Governor General Michaëlle Jean for appointment as the new Puisne Justice to the Supreme Court of Canada, on February 23, 2006. Rothstein had been 'short listed' with two other potential judges by a committee convened by the previous Liberal government. In keeping with election promises of a new appointment process, Harper announced Rothstein had to appear before an 'ad hoc' non-partisan committee of 12 Members of Parliament. However, the committee did not have the power to veto the appointment, which was what some members of his own party had called for.
The Canadian government reinstituted a policy of lowering the national flag at military installations such as Department of National Defence headquarters only, drawing criticism that the government was showing a lack of respect for the soldiers although veterans groups such as the Royal Canadian Legion support this policy.
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