The Harper Minority and the Majority Myth: Implementing the Conservative Agenda

By Brooke Jeffrey
Department of Political Science
Concordia University

At a Canadian Study of Parliament conference in October 2010, senior Conservative adviser and Harper confidant Tim Powers told participants that the prime minister was increasingly convinced he could implement most of his agenda without achieving a majority. Additional support for Powers’ claim can be found in the memoirs of Harper’s former chief of staff Tom Flanagan, who argues first that Harper’s agenda is not merely short-term policy implementation, but long-term institutional and societal change and, second, that Harper has long had a coherent and deliberate strategy to achieve this broader objective. Few would disagree with the claim that Harper’s aggressive approach to the institutions of government, including his widespread disregard for parliamentary conventions and the oversight role of the legislature, along with his unprecedented control of access to information and centralization of power in the PMO, have played a significant role in enabling his minority government to achieve their immediate objectives. However, seen through the prism of Flanagan’s insight about a longer-term strategy, many of the Harper government’s tactics with respect to extraparliamentary democratic institutions — including the marginalization of the media, defunding of interest groups, muzzling of the bureaucracy and blatant disregard for judicial rulings – can also be viewed as contributing to the implementation of the Conservative agenda. These tactics in turn bear a striking resemblance to the approach used so successfully by the American New Right during the Reagan and Bush eras, several of whose leading advocates are well-known to Harper and members of the original Reform Party. This paper attempts to analyze the various aspects of Harper’s strategy and its impact after five years of minority government, in an effort to determine whether the results would support the conclusion that a parliamentary majority, while helpful, is not essential for the implementation of the Conservative agenda in Canada.

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