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Politics Filling out your census will not destroy the legacy of Stephen Harper

Outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives at his Langevin office in Ottawa, Wednesday Oct. 21, 2015.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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POLITICS BRIEFING

By John Ibbitson (@John Ibbitson)

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Today we must fill out our census form and curse the memory of Stephen Harper, who tried to destroy it.

There is some hysteria around the census. A lot of people hated Mr. Harper – and hate is not too strong a word – because they thought he was a philistine who destroyed knowledge in pursuit of a vulgar ideology. That hatred peaked with the Conservative government's decision to replace the mandatory long-form census with a voluntary, and thus less accurate, equivalent.

But for critics, that barbarism was only the worst of a litany that included muzzling scientists, eviscerating environmental reviews, cancelling or defunding a plethora of agencies and NGOs; picking fights with Elections Canada and the Supreme Court and the indictments go on and on.

The good news, from this perspective, is that Justin Trudeau has arrived to right the ship and save the day and mix other metaphors. And just as cancelling the long-form census was the most despised action of a despicable government, so too its restoration is a source of national rejoicing. "Darn," go the tweets, "only got the short-form census. Better luck next time!"

It is also proof, as my friend Andrew Cohen wrote, that Mr. Harper's legacy is as ephemeral as it was obnoxious. "Stephen Harper misread the country," Mr. Cohen wrote in the Ottawa Citizen "His instincts were dark and conservative in a decent, progressive country. When Canadians had a choice, they discarded him. Now they're discarding his legacy."

A few thoughts on this:

Mr. Harper's decision – and it was his personal decision, as those who were around him attest – to rubbish the census was one of his most discreditable acts as prime minister. Only criticizing the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and concocting the "Barbaric Cultural Practices" hotline count as its equal.

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But every prime minister stumbles. How do Mr. Harper's stumbles compare with his predecessors? Jean Chrétien so badly bungled the No side of the 1995 Quebec referendum on independence that he came within a few thousand votes of losing the country. Brian Mulroney brought on that referendum crisis by gambling the country's future with the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, and losing. Pierre Trudeau suspended the constitution and had people arrested and held without cause during the FLQ crisis.

And Stephen Harper cancelled the mandatory long-form census. Really?

But that wasn't the worst of Mr. Harper's legacy, you may respond: Lowering the GST, failing to introduce a carbon tax to fight global warming, generally abandoning the government's nation-building mandate, gutting dozens of government programs, obsessing over trade deals, obsessing over Israel – these are the Harper government's cardinal sins.

And that is a terrible legacy – if you're not by nature a conservative. If you are by nature a conservative, this is what you expect a genuinely conservative government to do. The prosecution often accuses Mr. Harper of being who he says he is.

As for the legacy issue, consider this a handy guide: If one leader orders something scrapped with a wave of a hand and the next leader orders it restored with the wave of a hand, that's not legacy, that's filigree.

When the Liberals abandoned Conservative government's commitment to balanced budgets outside an emergency, that was a direct attack on Mr. Harper's legacy. When the Supreme Court overturned much of the Conservative government's criminal justice legislation, that was an attack also. But most of the Harper legacy – the lion's share of it, really – remains intact.

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Raise the GST. Cancel the trade deals with Europe, Korea and the Trans Pacific Partnership nations. Reorient foreign policy away from Israel and Ukraine and toward the Arabs and Russians. Reverse the anti-terrorism legislation. Impose a carbon tax or at least a national cap-and-trade system over provincial opposition. Now you're uprooting the Harper legacy. Now you are gutting 10 years of Conservative government.

But making people fill out a census form instead of just asking them to? Please.

(You can see a fuller analysis of the case against Stephen Harper here.)

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW IN OTTAWA

By Chris Hannay (@channay)

> First Nations leaders are suggesting that gaps in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement – the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history – mean the whole deal should be reviewed and rewritten.

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> Canada will no longer by the lone objector to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

> The assisted-dying bill is still at committee, which so far has rejected any amendments to the Liberal legislation.

> Justin Trudeau says the United Nations goal to spend 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product on international aid is "too ambitious."

> There are at least 46 empty seats at benches around the country, but the Liberals are declining to name new judges until they are done reviewing how judicial appointments are made.

> The upcoming Conservative Party convention will feature motions that would, if passed, place new limits on the next leader, including stripping them of the ability to appoint the party's executive director and placing a term limit on them.

> And it turns out that Stephen Harper's trip to Las Vegas to speak to Republicans last month cost about $4,000 and was paid for by the Republican Jewish Coalition.

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REGIONAL ROUNDUP

> New Brunswick: A wave of incumbent mayors were defeated last night in municipal elections.

> Ontario: In Kathleen Wynne's first two years as premier, the Liberals held more than 90 small private fundraisers that charged up to $10,000 a ticket, The Globe has learned.

> British Columbia: Corporate and union donations to parties should be banned, according to a majority of respondents in a new Angus Reid Institute poll. As well, the B.C. Liberals have ordered a rare directive that calendars and receipts from cabinet ministers and senior officials will be made public automatically.

> Alberta: The provincial government will release a plan to get Fort McMurray residents back into their homes in about two weeks, and nearly 90 per cent of buildings are still standing. Mr. Trudeau has rejected international help, including an offer from Russia.

WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT

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Lawrence Martin (Globe and Mail): "One of the impacts of searing tragedies such as the wildfires in northern Alberta is that they bring people together. Other provinces have responded to the destruction with immediate, heartfelt support. Albertans have a sense of the caring. Debates about pipelines that threaten to restoke old regional tensions will take on a new perspective. The need for rebuilding the Alberta economy will now be paramount and a consensus easier to find."

Richard Gwyn (Toronto Star): "It may be corny to say so, but the way this challenge [of the Fort McMurray fire] has been dealt with by those in authority – from the specialists, such as the firefighters and the policemen, and by the drivers of trucks and by those flying the planes that have made it possible for so many to survive – represents this country and its people at their best."

Ed Broadbent, Alex Himelfarb and Hugh Segal (Globe and Mail): "We have long recognized the flaws in our first-past-the-post system, inherited when democracy was not nearly so valued, but we are one of the few remaining countries that has not undertaken the needed reforms. We now have a historic opportunity. But time is short and Canadians are growing increasingly impatient for the government to announce the consultation process so it can meet its promised deadline."

Gerald Caplan (Globe and Mail): "It sometimes seems that if it weren't for bad luck, the NDP would have no luck at all. There's finally an NDP government in Alberta, under a quite wonderful leader, and it faces nothing but trouble, for none of which Rachel Notley is remotely responsible."

Jen Gerson (National Post): "The proposal [to merge Alberta's Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose] includes involvement from the Manning Centre and from former members of the inner circle of the late Ralph Klein – in other words, the lobbyists and insiders who now find themselves without influence in either the current NDP government or the conservative opposition parties. "

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