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Harper hails 2010 as a 'momentous' year for Canada

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to reporters at the NATO Summit in Lisbon on Nov. 20, 2010.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper toasted Canada's solid successes in 2010 in an undramatic New Year's message that contrasted sharply to those of global leaders who face continuing economic or political crises.

Despite a massive federal deficit, Mr. Harper offered no call to Canadians for common sacrifice, as British Prime Minister David Cameron did. Despite a sluggish economy, he felt no need to reach back to the achievements of previous generations to urge Canadians to renew their country's greatness, as U.S. President Barack Obama did.

In a manner consistent with his minority government status and unrelenting partisanship, Mr. Harper was boosterish and self-congratulatory, where his British and U.S. counterparts were blunt and explicitly reaching out to political competitors.

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Mr. Harper simply reviewed the achievements of the past year: an economy that is healthier than that of many nations; an inspiring Canadian performance at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver; his own chairmanship of the G8 /G20 summits. And he promised a steady hand on the tiller for the future.

"The values of hard-working Canadians - living within your means and reducing waste and duplication to keep taxes low - will continue to guide us as we move forward," he said in a statement released by his office Friday.

The Prime Minister's tone was typical of his minority government, one that rarely drops its partisan edginess. In fact, the statement was less of a New Year's message to the people - Mr. Harper did that at Christmas - and more of an advertisement for his government.

The headline on the press release made that clear: "Prime Minister Stephen Harper highlights government's 2010 accomplishments." The statement went on to list 13 specific measures - including seven crime bills passed or introduced and a new goal to cut Canadians' sodium intake to reduce childhood obesity - aimed at improving the lives of families.

But the low-key statement was also indicative of the current state of the country, which faces neither the daunting economic challenges of the U.S., Britain or a host of other industrialized countries, nor the security scares that led Mr. Cameron and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reassure worried citizens about government vigilance.

In his New Year's statement, which went out in a weekly address, Mr. Obama noted the U.S. remains mired in a "once-in-a-lifetime" recession, though he noted some promising signs of recent growth. He offered a New Year's resolution: to do everything in his power to ensure the recovery continues.

He also promised to work with Republicans who seized the majority in the House of Representatives in November in order to find short-term solutions while preparing the U.S. to succeed in an increasingly competitive world.

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"We have come through a difficult decade; one of new threats and new trials we didn't expect when it began," he said. "But a new year and a new decade stretch out before us. And if we just remember what America is capable of, and live up to that legacy, then I'm confident that we are poised for a period of progress - one in which our economy is growing, our standing in the world is rising, and we do what it takes to make sure America remains in the 21st century what it was in the 20th: the greatest country in the world."

Mr. Cameron was even more blunt in his message that Britain had endured a nasty recession - in part, he noted, because the country had been living well beyond its means - and still faces extremely tough medicine to recover.

His coalition government came to power in May and inherited a crippling deficit. It has slashed spending and raised taxes, sparking angry protests from those hit hardest by the austerity measures. And in his New Year's message, Mr. Cameron did not sugarcoat the pill.

In a podcast released by his office, he said: "2011 is going to be a difficult year, as we take hard but necessary steps to sort things out. But the actions we are taking are essential, because they are putting our economy and our country on the right path. Together, we can make 2011 the year that Britain gets back on its feet."

In contrast, the Harper government is promising a virtually painless effort to eliminate the federal deficit over five years. But then, both Britain and the United States have deficits that are twice as large as Canada's, relative to the size of their economies.

In a year that saw Canada host the Winter Olympics as well as the Group of Eight/Group of 20 summits, the prime minister also celebrated the "monumental year" for the country on the world stage, including a record gold medal haul with the first ever Canadian triumph on home soil.

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"This has been a momentous year for Canada and we can all be proud of the many successes achieved both here at home and around the world," he said.

For much of his year-end message, Mr. Harper listed off the achievements of his minority government, which will mark its fifth anniversary in power in February.

"2010 has been a great year for Canada," he said in a statement released by his office Friday afternoon. "Our number one priority was and continues to be the economy, protecting jobs and providing economic stability and financial security for Canadians."

He noted that some 440,000 more Canadians are working than were at the recession nadir in July 2009, and credited the government's "economic action plan," for the fact that Canada is emerging from recession more quickly and in better shape than most industrialized nations.

"The values of hard-working Canadians - living within your means and reducing waste and duplication to keep taxes low - will continue to guide us as we move forward," he said.

On the legislative front, the prime minister underscored his government pre-occupation with crime, noting seven separate bills had been introduced or passed in 2010 to increase jail terms for various offences.

Mr. Harper also noted his government's success in winning approval at the Muskoka summit to improve child and maternal health, and noted that the United Nations' World health Organization has asked him to co-chair a Commission on Information and Accountability for Women and Children's health, which is to begin work in the new year.

And he commended Canadian troops and civilian personnel in Afghanistan, who are working with international partners and the Afghan people to rebuild the country as a "more secure, better-governed, more prosperous nation that will never again be a base for terrorism against Canada or its allies."

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