Stephen Harper kicked off the last six months of Commons sittings before an expected mid-term shakeup with a rousing speech reminding his sprawling caucus to keep their focus on Canada's fragile economy. It's hardly a new message but one that is designed to help keep a restless Tory caucus in line. Last July the Prime Minister signalled to fellow Tories that he will enact a major shuffle of his cabinet in mid-2013 and prorogue Parliament to usher in a new Throne Speech outlining what will clearly be a new pre-election agenda. In the meantime, he outlined four priorities that, he says, Canadians care most about.
"The next few years will be times of significant national remembrance. … We can look back with pride and forward with confidence as part of a Canada standing tall, the best country in the world."
- What it means: The anniversary of the War of 1812 is over, but the government is already planning similar fanfare for other historical commemorations. The 200th anniversary of Sir John A. Macdonald’s birth is two years away, and 2017 will mark 150 years since Confederation and the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The government has already begun highlighting the role Canadians played in that seminal battle, with the Bank of Canada’s new $20 bills featuring the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. But the coming celebrations are expected to be costly and the decision to highlight military victories in particular has drawn criticism.
"Despite years of unceasing effort, there remain many areas requiring determined action in our criminal justice system. Colleagues, when it comes to keeping our streets and communities safe, we will not rest, for there is much more to be done."
- What it means: The government will continue to push ahead with its tough-on-crime agenda, despite statistics showing that the rate of reported crime in Canada has been steadily declining. Early this year, the government is expected to table a new bill that could make it harder for those found not criminally responsible for a serious offence to be released from custody, particularly if they might pose a risk to the public. The Conservatives have also signalled that they will prioritize two pieces of legislation introduced last year: one aimed at improving RCMP accountability and another to make it easier to deport convicted criminals who are not Canadian citizens.
"We as a government will never forget that the key to the hopes and dreams of Canadians is the prosperity of this land... For you, for me, for all of us, the economy is still job one."
- What it means: If the message track ain’t broke, why fix it. Being focused on the economy is clearly the government’s dominant rhetorical theme, but it also directs its policy focus. As it prepares its 2013 budget, the goal is to trim spending and balance the books before the next federal election in 2015 in an effort to boost the government’s fiscal brand – both internationally and to Canadian voters. The political danger is that recent economic events – a shrinking U.S. economy and continued concern over Canadian household debt and the real estate market - are conspiring to make the government’s target harder and harder to achieve.
"We support families in every area of government – promoting better health, a cleaner environment, strengthened consumer safety. We have made the investments and Canadians have seen the results. But there is much more to do."
- What it means: The Conservative election platform included six pages of items – some already implemented before the 2011 election – aimed at “hard-working families.” Some of the measures – including the children’s arts tax credit – were included in the 2011 budget. The government hasn’t yet spelled out what new consumer safety measures are on the horizon. Many of the other family-related promises, such as adult fitness tax breaks and doubling the Tax Free Savings Account limit, were premised on a balanced budget, which the government now expects will happen later than originally planned.