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On the big things, on the things that really count, Stephen Harper has governed well. But that doesn't mean he deserves your vote.

The daily noise of politics can drown perspective. But when taking stock at an anniversary, or as a possible election approaches - or both - it's best to focus on what really matters.

Nothing matters more than war, when a country is in one. Liberals and Conservatives together agreed to go to war in Afghanistan, and both agree Canada should remain there in a training capacity. But it was mostly up to the Conservatives to equip and lead the mission, and we know they did that well because the troops are silent. If the Conservatives had botched the mission by putting soldiers in harm's way with shoddy kit, incompetent generals or poorly thought-out operations, men and women on the line would have sounded the alarm. They always have in the past.

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The other big job of the federal government is to manage the economy and its own finances. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty kept the books balanced during the good times, applied the right amount of economic stimulus when the recession hit, and is now winding down the stimulus and moving to eliminate the deficit. That's what the federal government should have done and that's what the Conservatives did.

Prime Minister Harper boasted this week that his government has been scandal-free and at peace with the provinces. He's entitled to it. Yes, there were fake lakes and fired cabinet ministers and a myriad of other petty alarms. Yes, there was the dustup between Mr. Harper and former Newfoundland premier Danny Williams. But there have been no major revelations of systemic abuse of government funds. The Auditor-General has issued no damning reports. And the scarcity of first ministers' conferences testifies to federal-provincial harmony.

In other words, on the biggest files, Mr. Harper got the job done.

But the Conservatives are guilty of myriad sins of both omission and commission, enough to damn them in the eyes of many. This government took no meaningful action to combat global warming. It failed, for the first time in more than sixty years, to secure a seat on the Security Council. For too long, it ignored the trade potential with India and China.

It eroded democracy by repeatedly having Parliament prorogued; declared war on crime, even though crime is already in retreat; gutted the census for no good reason; and this week dredged the gutter with attack ads that sink to questioning Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's love of country.

You can approve the general direction of the Conservative government after five years, while lamenting some of its specific actions. Whether that warrants casting a ballot for another party is something that you may have to decide sooner rather than later.

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