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Canada - 2006 Elections - Harper / Conservative

On February 6, 2006, Stephen Harper was sworn in as Canada's twenty-second Prime Minister, succeeding Liberal Party leader Paul Martin. An admitted "policy specialist," Harper rose from the ranks of conservative political party staffers. Prior to becoming Prime Minister, he sat as a Member of Parliament, including as Leader of the Opposition since 2002 when he became head of the western-based Canadian Alliance. He was elected the first leader of the Conservative Party of Canada when it was created in 2003 through the merger of Canadian Alliance and Peter MacKay's Progressive Conservative Party. The January 23, 2006 election victory by the Conservative Party ended twelve years of Liberal Party rule that, in the end, was tainted by corruption and ethics concerns, despite the economic progress Canada achieved while the Liberals were in power.

In the January 2006 elections, the Conservatives made unexpected gains in Quebec, winning ten seats. Many observers have noted how a reinvigorated Conservative option in Quebec represents a boost for national unity. Harper's government is in a minority position in the House of Commons, however, and has a slimmer minority than was enjoyed by the preceding Liberal government. The Conservatives now hold 125 seats and the Liberals 102. The separatist Bloc Quebecois (BQ) has a majority (51) of Quebec's 75 seats (the BQ offers candidates only in Quebec). The left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) increased its seat count to 29, but fell short of the number that would have guaranteed it the power broker role it played in the previous Liberal minority government.

Prime Minister Harper's Conservatives began the 39th Parliament in the spring of 2006 with several objectives that were featured during the later election campaign: accountability and ethics in government; cutting the federal value-added sales tax; measures to fight crime and urban violence; reducing wait times for medical procedures in Canada's national health system; and providing a tax credit to parents for young children's day care. Harper's Cabinet choices on February 6 included his Quebec advisor and campaign co-chair Michael Fortier, who was appointed to the Senate and given the portfolio for the Department of Public Works and Government Services, and former Liberal Industry minister David Emerson, who crossed the floor immediately after the election to become the Conservative Government's Minister of International Trade. Former Deputy Opposition leader Peter MacKay was named Foreign Minister.

In the federal election on October 14, 2008, the Conservatives formed a second minority government with 143 seats in the House of Commons and 38% of the vote. (As of September 2010, they held 144 seats.) The Liberals won 26% of the vote and 77 seats in the House of Commons. As the party with the second-largest number of seats, the Liberals form the "official opposition." In December 2008, the three opposition parties explored deposing the Harper government and replacing it with a Liberal-New Democratic coalition supported on confidence and budgetary matters by the Bloc Quebecois. The Liberal Party ultimately backed away from the plan in the face of strong public opposition in the English-speaking provinces.

The Conservatives made unexpected gains in Quebec by winning 10 seats in the January 2006 election, but failed to increase their number of seats in the province in the 2008 election. The Bloc Quebecois, a party advocating Quebec sovereignty, holds 48 of Quebec's 75 seats. The social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) now has 37 seats. One independent sits in Parliament.

Policy priorities of the Conservatives under Prime Minister Harper remained fairly consistent since 2006: lower federal taxes, especially on consumption; reducing crime; increasing defense spending; asserting sovereignty in the Arctic; and raising the profile of Canada's role abroad, through its combat mission in Afghanistan, contributions to earthquake relief in Haiti, and renewed engagement in the Americas.

Faced with falling public opinion poll numbers, on July 15, 2013 Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper named eight new ministers in his biggest cabinet reorganization since taking office in 2006. There were a total of 38 ministers associated with the Harper cabinet. A half-dozen ministers recently announced they were stepping down, but ministers with key portfolios, such as finance and foreign affairs, remained at their posts. The appointees included four women. The government shake-up appeared to be aimed at making a new start for the Canadian government before federal elections in 2015. An recent expenses scandal dented Harper's Conservative Party's popularity.

By 2015, Stephen Harper had stopped trying to govern for all Canadians, including those who might disagree with him, and was governing pretty much full-time for true believers. The turning point came, perhaps, in early 2012 when the Harper government sought to legalize the tax-court harassment of NGOs that dared oppose pipeline construction. By 2015, a segment of the electorate was tired of being told they were the wrong kind of Canadians with the wrong kind of opinions, and they were eager for a government that would do less of that.

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