TORONTO – Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday he won’t surprise Canadians with a hidden-right wing agenda after his Conservatives won a coveted majority in what will be a dramatically reshaped Parliament.
Harper, who took office in 2006, failed to win the majority of Parliament’s 308 seats in two previous elections but Monday’s vote gave him 167 seats, allowing him to pass any legislation he wants.
Harper deliberately avoided sweeping policy changes in a minority government, but now has an opportunity to remake traditionally liberal Canada in his own conservative image. Majority Parliaments are all powerful in Canada.
“We got that mandate because the way we have governed and Canadians expect us to continue to move forward in the same way,” said Harper, who has incrementally moved Canada to the right.
In past elections, Harper did not explicitly ask for a majority, which avoided raising fears among Canadians that he would implement a radical right wing agenda. Harper has said he will not tinker with Canada’s liberal abortion and gay rights laws and on Tuesday sought to reassure the country of his commitment to public health care.
“I think we’ve made it very clear that we support Canada’s system of universal public health insurance,” Harper said after securing four years of uninterrupted government.
While Harper’s hold on Parliament has been tenuous during his five-year tenure, he has managed to nudge an instinctively center-left country to the right, gradually lowering sales and corporate taxes, avoiding climate change legislation and promoting Arctic sovereignty.
He has also upped military spending, extended Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan and staunchly backed Israel’s right-wing government.
Stephen Clarkson, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said the 52-year-old Harper should now be considered a transformative figure in Canadian history.
“It’s a sea change,” Clarkson said. “We’ve had Conservative governments before but not a neo-Conservative that wants to reduce government.”
Harper forged an alliance of old and new Tory parties to form the Conservative Party of Canada and has now cemented his legacy.
The election marks a change in Canada’s political landscape with opposition Liberals and Quebec separatists suffering a punishing defeat.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff announced he will step down from the post following the party’s worst defeat in history. Ignatieff even lost his own seat in a Toronto suburb.
Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe also lost his own seat and immediately resigned after French-speaking voters in Quebec indicated they had grown weary with the separatist party, which had a shocking drop to four seats from 47 in the last Parliament.
Harper said he was disappointed the Conservatives didn’t benefit from the dramatic shift in votes in Quebec but said he was encouraged the shift is toward federalism and he took some credit for it.
“As a Canadian and a federalist I am encouraged by the collapse of Bloc,” Harper said. “I believe that the way we’ve been managing the federation and our relations, our significant and important relations with Quebec, have made a big difference in bringing about that change for the benefit of the entire country and now for the benefit of the NDP.”
The leftist New Democratic Party went from one seat in Quebec to 58 and became the main opposition party, with 102 seats overall, tripling their overall support in a stunning setback for the Liberals who have always been either in power or leading the opposition.
The Liberals, who ruled Canada for much of the last century, dropped to 34 seats overall from 77 – finishing third for the first time in Canadian history.