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Canada: Harper remakes country in his image

During Harper's 5 years in power, Canada has moved perceptibly to the right.

Yet Harper also squandered a $12 billion budget surplus left by the previous Liberal government with a pre-recession spending spree and cuts to the tax on goods and services. Recession stimulus spending has since brought the deficit to more than $50 billion.

On the democratic side of the ledger, Harper twice shut down Parliament to get out of political binds — once to prevent the opposition parties from forming a coalition that would have ousted him from power, and again, in January 2010, to prevent opposition parties from learning what the government knew about Canadian soldiers allegedly handing Afghan detainees to Afghan torturers.

He has also concentrated power in his office. And, a new study ranked Canada dead last in an international comparison of freedom-of-information laws.

The policy side has been without major initiatives. Harper’s ideological bent has more often been displayed by initiatives he axed or turned his back on, such as a national child care program of the previous Liberal government, an accord to boost education and reduce poverty among aboriginal people, the Kyoto Protocol to fight climate change and funding for Toronto’s massive Gay Pride festival.

His government has toughened sentencing for some crimes, including possession of marijuana, which critics say will bloat the prison population at a time when the crime rate has fallen significantly.

It has also shifted foreign policy strongly in favor of Israel. Harper has the dubious distinction of being the only Canadian prime minister who tried and failed to win a seat on the U.N. Security Council — a clear sign of the international respect the country has lost.

He also tried — and failed — to get rid of the “long-gun registry,” a centralized system whereby owners of rifles and shotguns have to register their weapons.  In his speech Sunday, he promised to try again if he wins the next election.

A week ago, Harper also expressed his support for capital punishment — abolished in Canada in 1976. He said he had no plans to try and reinstate it in the next Parliament.

Harper may have to settle for another minority government next time around. But minority governments haven’t stopped him from slowly remaking the country in his image.