OTTAWA — Here are five ways Stephen Harper left his mark on Canada.
1. Honed the use of political advertising:
Harper's use of political ads changed politics in two ways: he used it successfully to define and vanquish his opponents and to sell his own economic agenda. Remember Michael Ignatieff? The ads said he was "just visiting.'' Heard of him lately? Defining Justin Trudeau as "just not ready'' didn't go as well, but the Liberal leader acknowledged the phrase in his own counterattack ad. Meanwhile, the NDP evoked dark images as it hit Harper hard for corruption and mismanagement. And did you know the government "economic action plan'' helped pave that nearby road, renovate the local curling club, or refurbish a bridge? Yes you did, eventually, because the government spent millions telling you this in commercials and on billboards.
2. Weaned government off data.
Harper's decision to cancel the long form census in 2010 and replace with a voluntary householder sparked massive criticism. The move was opposed by the country's chief statistician. The result was a less-complete picture of where and how Canadians live. Harper argued it was an example of government being too intrusive. But many say it dulled what was becoming a clear picture of communities, down to the neighbourhoods they lived in, and the income they lived on — or didn't — which helped governments plan. Meanwhile, thousands of scientists in several federal government departments have complained of being muzzled by the Conservatives. They have argued that a scientific-integrity policy is needed to protect public health, safety and the environment.
3. High court showdowns
Harper's Conservatives arrived in power already wary of the courts, and their so-called "judicial activism.'' But even though Harper has appointed most of the nine-member Supreme Court of Canada, the Conservative agenda has run into a brick wall, at times, in battles with the highest court in the land. The court has struck down mandatory minimums for gun crimes. It also rejected the government's appointment of Quebec judge Marc Nadon to its ranks and rejected Parliament's right to reform the Senate on its own. It also upheld the right of Vancouver's controversial Insite safe-injection facility to stay open — something the tough-on-crime Conservatives vehemently opposed.
4. Foreign policy his way:
Harper played by his own rules. That meant thumbing his nose at multilateral institutions like the United Nations, which were invented to bring order from the chaos of the Second World War, in favour of smaller clubs of like-minded countries like the G7 (which he likes a whole lot better now that Russia is gone from it), or coalitions of the willing. That meant not automatically "going along to get along'' with UN treaties to control the trade in small arms or on the environment. It also allowed him to selectively flex Canada's international muscle in ad-hoc coalitions of the willing such as the U.S.-led one currently bombing Islamic State targets in Syria. And after the blood and treasure shed in Afghanistan, it has also enabled him to just say no to boots on the ground for any major world hotspot.
5. Fewer government fingerprints on your wallet.
Harper cut taxes, starting with the much-loathed GST, reducing it from seven per cent to five. He also cut personal income tax. That reduced government revenue by billions, a bad idea in the eyes of some economists. But this will have an effect on future leaders, especially those who want to spend on new programs. They will face the prospect of raising taxes, which no voter will welcome. Harper also took the use of boutique tax credits to new heights. People can now claim for home renovations, their children's sports activities and music lessons. If you're a volunteer firefighter or an electrician, Harper created a box for you tick on your tax return.
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