Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on 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 Canadian Parliament.
Harper, who took office in 2006, failed to win the majority of the 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 healthcare.
“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 White House said US President Barack Obama called Harper to congratulate him on his victory and said Obama looks forward to renewing a commitment to improve security and trade along the border. Harper also congratulated Obama for his successful operation against Osama bin Laden.
Despite their political differences, Harper is said to get on better with Obama than he did with former US president George W. Bush, possibly preferring the current US president’s cerebral style to his predecessor’s backslapping Texan charm.
Harper appeared happier than ever on Tuesday.
“I obviously am feeling great,” said Harper, who joked that his staff forced him to take a swig from a champagne bottle after his big victory.