Jonathan Malloy, Ottawa Citizen December 27, 2012
It’s always clichéd to say “when historians look back at the year xxxx,” but when they do, 2012 might be seen as the year Stephen Harper’s Conservatives finally began acting more like a typical Canadian government. The Conservative regime appears increasingly mature and more entrenched than ever, while the NDP and Liberals compete for second place.
It has never been easy to explain the Harper government, but after years of lurching brinkmanship and some very erratic actions, it’s striking to realize in 2012 how much it is beginning to resemble past governments. Its key issues and policies are becoming more complex and generally less ideological (with notable exceptions). Though the prime minister remains firmly in control, interesting cracks are beginning to appear in the Conservative façade — again, normal for a maturing majority government. The stability of its parliamentary majority and the weakness of its opposition has allowed the Conservatives more room to manoeuvre and, it seems, curbed some of their worst partisan instincts. While no one will mistake this for a warm and fuzzy group, it is starting to look a little more like past Liberal and Conservative governments — and certainly less confrontational than the regime that set off a constitutional crisis in 2008.
Many of the key domestic files of 2012, such as deficit reduction, public sector layoffs, foreign investment, changes to retirement benefits and defence procurement messes, are familiar issues from the past. The Chrétien government, for example, dealt with all of these (if we include CPP reform) — not always in the same way admittedly, but there isn’t a yawning ideological divide either. Similarly, while the Harper government continues to be pilloried for omnibus bills and other parliamentary tactics, Dalton McGuinty’s Queen’s Park prorogation was a terrific 2012 gift to justify the Tory argument that they play by the rules of the game.
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The new normal