POLITICS

Harper: Tension Between Courts, Government Part Of Canadian System

10/16/2015 02:44 EDT | Updated 10/16/2016 05:12 EDT

QUEBEC — For nearly a decade, Stephen Harper's government has found itself at odds with a judiciary that often strikes down laws and regulations crafted to reflect Conservative ideology and values the party says are shared by most Canadians.

And while court decisions have also forced the Conservatives to confront difficult social and moral questions about drug use, prostitution and doctor-assisted suicide, the relationship between the two branches of government is as it should be, Harper said Friday.

"We're not planning to change the system," he said after a campaign speech in Quebec City.

"This kind of tension is part of the constitutional system of our country."

Harper has also managed to use that tension to his political advantage, like in Quebec, where the decision to appeal a court ruling that struck down a ban on face coverings at citizenship ceremonies is helping his party gain popular support.

The line in Harper's speech on that particular issue — "you want new citizens who join our Canadian family with their faces uncovered," he says — often draws the biggest cheers at his rallies in Quebec, as it did Friday.

The issues of prostitution and safe injection sites have also been turned into political fodder for the Conservatives, who accuse the Liberals of wanting to put brothels and so-called "shooting galleries" in local neighbourhoods.

They use their rivals' responses to court rulings as the basis for those claims — the fact the Liberals haven't proposed a policy responding to a Supreme Court decision on prostitution, for example, allows the Conservatives to claim they tacitly endorse legalization.

In campaign speeches, though, Harper has largely focused on the implications of a Liberal government on people's pocketbooks, which he did again Friday in Quebec City — even though the party's main challengers for votes in the region are the NDP and Bloc Quebecois.

The Conservatives insist the clear question for Monday's vote is whether people want a government that will help them keep their money or spend it.

Last year, the Supreme Court also thwarted Harper's efforts to deal with another issue that was once of vital significance to his Conservative base of support: Senate reform.

Not only would reforming the upper chamber have appealed to longtime supporters, it would have helped to neutralize the Senate spending scandal and Sen. Mike Duffy, whose expenses are now the subject of criminal trial.

While the issue dominated the early days of the campaign, it has since largely faded from the campaign spotlight. Fear of resurrecting it may be why the Conservatives haven't mounted a full court press on the controversy brewing on the Liberal campaign.

Justin Trudeau's campaign co-chair Dan Gagnier was forced to step down this week after an email surfaced that showed he was advising TransCanada Corp. on how to lobby a new government.

Gagnier is from Quebec, where the Liberal sponsorship scandal originated and was largely responsible for decimating that party's standing in the province.

Harper briefly addressed the issue Thursday before being asked about it again Friday, this time whether he'd had any conversations with his own campaign staffers about staying away from those kind of interactions.

"We have a very strict code of ethics within the Conservative party and frankly there is no other party in this election that is accused of the things the Liberal party and Mr. Gagnier have done," he said.

"That is for them to answer to, it is the old culture of the sponsorship scandal, it's not about anybody else, it's about the Liberal party."

The Liberal party remained the target of most of Harper's attack during an event Friday night in New Brunswick.

New Brunswick is the base of most of his party's support in the eastern-most region of the country; the Conservatives have eight seats here, but some are considered at risk on Monday, including Fredericton, where Harper spoke to a crowd of a couple hundred supporters gathered in a home manufacturing plant.

Harper slammed the provincial Liberal government in his speech, telling supporters the province was in for more of the same if they elect Liberals federally — it's a tactic his party has used throughout the campaign in New Brunswick, including in their ads.

Harper also noted he has a personal connection to the province — his ancestors settled there more than 200 years ago upon arriving in Canada.

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