CALGARY - If Prime Minister Stephen Harper has his way, it will be next summer before there are any major changes to his government's front benches.
Speaking on an Alberta radio show Thursday, Harper ruled out both a major cabinet shuffle and prorogation of the House of Commons until the government reaches the halfway point of its majority mandate.
Prorogation is when the legislature "resets" itself with a throne speech and new bills. Harper said he considered the move, but decided against it for the time being.
"I didn't see any reason to do it right now. We've still got a number of pieces of legislation we do want to pass," Harper told host Dave Rutherford, whose show is broadcast provincewide on CHQR and CHED.
"I think what I am more likely to do ... is probably in mid-term — we will probably have a new session mid-term."
Harper said the performance of cabinet ministers will be assessed halfway through his government's mandate and that's when any big changes will be made.
"We'll take a look at how everybody is performing and make some major changes at that point," he said. "But I think between now and then let's keep everybody focused on the job we got elected to do."
Harper's Conservatives won a majority in May 2011 and the fixed-election-date law calls for the next vote in October 2015.
Under the Constitution, the Governor General can dissolve Parliament and call an election at any time and Harper has suggested he is flexible about the fixed date if it conflicts with provincial elections. If the timelines hold, however, the halfway point in the mandate would be August of next year.
Cabinet shuffle talk heated up this week following the resignation of embattled International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda.
While it was expected that hole might be filled as part of a wide-ranging shakeup, Harper only made a minor tweak.
Associate minister of defence Julian Fantino, the government's front man on the fumbled F-35 fighter jet file, was moved to Oda's spot. Fantino's old duties were handed off to New Brunswick MP Bernard Valcourt, minister of state for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay was one of the ministers thought to be up for a change this summer as he's also been dogged by the controversy over fighter-jet spending.
But Harper said MacKay isn't going anywhere.
"We're right in the middle of a whole lot of important initiatives that we launched right after the campaign and I want to see our ministers focused on those things and carrying them through."
Moving forward, Harper said the economy will be his government's top priority.
The Harper government has come under scrutiny this week from The Economist weekly magazine, which called it "intolerant of criticism and dissent" and said that during his years as prime minister Harper has "acquired a reputation for playing fast and loose with the rules." But it said the Conservative government has accomplishments too, citing the country's economic growth forecast this year and saying the economy stands out from its peers.
"The country as you know, like the whole rest of the world, has been through a very difficult period with the economic crisis of '08-'09. We've come out of that well," Harper said on the radio show.
"What we've said our goal is now, is not just to make sure we continue to come out of it, but that this country does not face the problems that we're seeing in Europe, the United States and Japan — that rather than being one of these old economic powers that's in trouble, we want to make sure we join the club of the emerging economic powers."
Have The Tories Kept Their Promises?
The Conservative election platform in 2011, "Here for Canada," featured many campaign commitments.<br><br>One year into Harper's "strong, stable, majority Conservative government," how much has been accomplished? What still remains to be done?<br><br><em>With files from CBC</em><br><br>(Getty)
What They've Done
The next five slides provide a list of what the Tories have accomplished in their first year.<br><br>(Getty)
Budget 2011 Measures
Budget 2011 measures (rolled into the election platform after the original March budget did not pass, and all delivered again in the June budget):<br><br> - Hiring credit for small business -- offering a short-term break from EI payments for those who increase payrolls.<br><br> - Extension for: work-sharing program (helping employers avoid layoffs by providing part-time EI benefits); the "targeted initiative for older workers" (programs to help older unemployed workers); temporary accelerated capital cost allowance rate for manufacturing equipment; mineral exploration tax credit; ecoENERGY retrofit program for homes (one more year only.)<br><br>- Funding for: Canadian youth business foundation; Canada student loans program; 30 new industrial research chairs at Canadian colleges and polytechnics and ten new Canada excellence research chairs for universities; northern adult basic education program in territories; student loan forgiveness for medical professionals willing to work in rural/underserviced regions.<br><br>- Funding for: all-season road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk (to complete Dempster highway); two new national parks in Labrador and urban Toronto; snowmobile trails; small-craft harbour repairs; plus support for an agricultural trade commissioner and market access secretariat to "expand international markets for farmers;" as well as funding for an "agriculture innovation initiative."<br><br>- Funding for: Royal Conservatory of Music (to launch a national examination system); Canada periodical (magazines) fund; "youth gang prevention fund" to support projects in high-need communities.<br><br>- Tax credits: children's arts (up to $500/child in qualified arts/culture programs); family caregiver tax credit ($2,000 for those caring for an infirm family member); volunteer firefighters; plus a top-up for guaranteed income supplement for low-income seniors.<br><br>- Phase-out of taxpayer subsidies to federal political parties.<br><br>(CP)
Other Economic Measures:
- Government-wide spending review, as reflected in the 2012 budget, implementing over $5 billion in spending and job cuts across all federal departments and agencies, representing some 6.9 per cent of total government spending.<br><br>- Repeal of legislation forcing mandatory retirement at a specified age for workers in federally-regulated industries (effective Dec. 2012).<br><br>- Financial assistance (loans) to help immigrants get foreign credentials recognized (pilot announced Feb. 2012).<br><br>- "One-for-one" rule for business regulations arising from work of "red tape commission," now requiring government to eliminate a regulation for every new regulation implemented (effective April 1).- Successful bidders chosen for shipbuilding procurement strategy (Oct. 2011).<br><br>- "Single desk" monopoly of Canadian Wheat Board dismantled and farmer-elected board dismissed, enabling an open market for Prairie wheat and barley effective 2012 crop year.<br><br>- Pooled retirement pension plans implemented (Nov. 2011).<br><br>- "Helmets to hardhats" program to help military veterans find civillian work after deployments (announced Jan. 2012).<br><br>
- 18 more First Nations signed on to the First Nations land management regime, opting out of land-related sections of the Indian Act (March 2012).<br><br>- Quebec sales tax harmonization agreement (signed in Sept. 2011).<br><br>- Increase health transfers to provinces by six per cent annually until 2017, with the rate tied to economic growth and adjusted for inflation after 2017 (platform pledged to not "cut transfer payments to individuals or to the provinces for essential things like health care, education, and pensions" while working "collaboratively with the provinces and territories to renew the Health Accord and to continue reducing wait times").<br><br>- Loan guarantee for Lower Churchill River hydro project (memorandum with Newfoundland and Labarador signed in Aug. 2011).<br><br>- Legislation to make the "gas tax fund" a permanent form of infrastructure funding to municipalities (passed Dec. 2011).<br><br>- Alberta's elected Senate nominee Betty Unger called to Senate in Jan. 2012 (no other provinces have elected Senate nominees eligible for appointment).<br><br>(Getty)
- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/omnibus-crime-bill/?" target="_hplink">Omnibus crime legislation (C-10)</a>, which included new mandatory minimum sentences, stiffer penalties for drug crimes, stiffer penalties for child sex offenders, an end to house arrest/conditional sentences for a range of offences, elimination or delay in eligibility for pardons, stiffer sentences for repeat or violent young offenders, new roles for victims of crime in parole decisions, measures to protect vulnerable foreign workers, new criteria for the transfer of Canadians convicted of crimes abroad, and new measures to seek justice for victims of terrorism (received royal assent March 2012, within the "100 sitting days of Parliament" deadline pledged in the platform).<br><br>- "Wanted by the CBSA" web site launched, to help find and facilitate deportations of foreign criminals (July 2012, and ongoing).<br><br>- Employment insurance benefits for parents of murdered or missing children (announced April 13).<br><br>- Legislation to end the long-gun registry (received royal assent April 5, but implementation stalled, subject to court injunction in Quebec).<br><br>
- Office of religious freedom created in department of foreign affairs, to monitor and promote religious freedom as part of Canadian foreign policy.<br><br>- Legislation to reallocate House of Commons seats to "restore fair representation" (C-20 received royal assent Dec. 2011).<br><br>(CP)
What They Haven't Done (Or Haven't Finished, Yet)
The next six slides provide a list of what the Tories didn't get done during their first year.<br><br>(Getty)
Trade Deals And International Commitments
- Canada-European free trade deal (pledged for 2012).<br><br>- Canada-India free trade deal (pledged for 2013).<br><br>- New border agreement with the United States encompassing trade, travel and security regulations (negotiations ongoing).<br><br>- Copyright Modernization Act (special committee reviewing C-11 reported back to House on March 15).<br><br>- Maternal and child health initiatives, to be implemented in collaboration with other countries (the "Muskoka Initiative," launched in Nov. 2010 - $82 million for specific Canadian projects announced in Sept. 2011 ).<br><br>- Post-combat efforts in Afghanistan, focused on "the education and health of children and youth; advancing security, the rule of law, and human rights; promoting regional diplomacy; and delivering humanitarian assistance."<br><br>(Getty)
- F-35 stealth fighter jet purchase (a new secretariat will now oversee the procurement of replacement fighter jets for the CF-18s, following controversy surrounding the disclosed costs of the F-35 program).<br><br>- New air expeditionary wing at CFB Bagotville, including 250 new personnel by end of 2011 and 550 stationed there by 2015 (undisclosed number of personnel added last year to "establish core" of new expeditionary wing, minister's office says, and the government is "committed to adding personnel as the operational tempo permits").<br><br>(AP)
- Long-term plan or program, with municipalities and provinces, for building public infrastructure once the Building Canada plan expires in 2014.<br><br>- National securities regulator (Supreme Court ruled in December a national regulator would infringe on provincial jurisdiction, but federal efforts to negotiate a deal with the provinces continue).<br><br>- Income-splitting for families with children under 18 years of age -- allowing couples to share up to $50,000 in income (to be implemented when/if the federal deficit is eliminated).<br><br>- Children's fitness tax credit to be doubled and made refundable (contingent on eliminating federal deficit).<br><br>- Adult fitness tax credit (up to $500 of eligible activities, contingent on eliminating federal deficit).<br><br>- Tax-free savings accounts to see doubling of annual eligible savings, up to $10,000 (contingent on eliminating federal deficit).<br><br>- Employment insurance benefits for parents of gravely ill children (nothing announced to date).<br><br>- Relocation for the head office for the Canada economic development agency for Quebec regions "to a centre or centres appropriate to all regions of the province" (it's still in Montreal, and the minister's office says "we are at the stage where we are considering all of the options").<br><br>- Legislation to implement the Canada-Quebec accord on offshore resources (brief mention in text of 2012 budget).<br><br>- New national farm and food strategy (no announcement yet).<br><br>(Alamy)
- Anti-terrorism legislation to reinstate powers like preventative arrest and secret investigative hearings, and make it illegal to leave Canada to participate in terrorist-sponsored training or other activities (S-7 currently before Senate committee).<br><br>- Legislation to streamline the process for deporting foreign criminals, including the opportunities for appeal (not introduced yet, expected "in a few short months").<br><br>- Doubling of victim surcharge that convicted criminals must pay (bill C-37 introduced April 24).<br><br>- Legislation to combat elder abuse by adding it as an aggravating factor in sentencing (bill C-36 introduced March 15).<br><br>- Legislation to clarify self-defence and property rights/citizen's arrest provisions (bill C-26 concurred at report stage April 24).<br><br>- Legislation to "give law enforcement and national security agencies up-to-date tools to fight crime in today's high-tech communications environment" (bill C-30 introduced Feb. 14, but stalled after receiving negative feedback). The campaign platform pledged to fulfil this within "100 sitting days of Parliament," which suggests a March deadline, now passed.<br><br>- Measures to combat drug abuse in prisons (no announcement yet).<br><br>- End to sentencing discounts for multiple child sex offences and child pornography charges (no announcement yet).<br><br>- Mandatory jail sentences for those with repeat convictions for contraband tobacco, and a new RCMP anti-contraband force of 50 officers (no announcement yet).<br><br>- National action plan to combat human trafficking (no announcement yet, but private member's bill C-310 to amend the Criminal Code to strengthen measures against human trafficking passed at third reading in the House April 27 and is now before the Senate).<br><br>- New law enforcement mandate for Canada's Coast Guard, to allow them to enforce federal laws on oceans and the Great Lakes, including new armed capabilities on board Coast Guard vessels and armed boarding teams (no annoucement yet).<br><br>- Legislation to allow sentencing courts to order the deportation of convicted criminals upon completion of sentence or parole eligibility, and to remove the requirement of the prisoner's consent for transfer to complete a sentence abroad (no announcement yet).<br><br>(Alamy)
Environmental And Community Measures
- National conservation plan (consultations currently underway at Commons environment committee).<br><br>- "Social impact bonds" to help raise money for worthwhile community projects (2012 budget said HRDSC was "exploring social finance instruments" for an announcement at a later date).<br><br>- Funding for a "volunteer-matching" service through Volunteer Canada (2012 budget ends federal funding for the national volunteer community service organization Katimavik).<br><br>- Defibrillators for every hockey rink in Canada, and training for using them (no announcement yet).<br><br>- Hunting advisory panel, to consult with environment minister on issues concerning hunting and fishing (no announcement yet).<br><br>- Review of the Species at Risk Act to ensure landowners receive fair compensation when their property is affected (no announcement yet, however the 2012 budget implementation bill does amend the Species at Risk Act).<br><br>(CP)
Senate Reform And Accountability Measures
- Legislation to set term limits for senators and provide a framework for Senate elections (C-7 introduced June 2011 but has not progressed further -- and on May 1, Quebec government announced a constitutional challenge of this Senate reform bill).<br><br>- Legislation to publish the salaries of First Nations chiefs and councillors (C-27 introduced Nov. 2011 but has not progressed further).<br><br>- Measures to implement Canada's commitment to the "open government initiative" (ongoing).<br><br>(CP)