Tag Archives: Canadian politics

The Politics of Policymaking in Canada

The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada, written by Alex Marland and Jared J. Wesley, is a concise primer on the inner workings of government in Canada. As former public servants themselves, these authors know the difficulties in understanding how modern government operates, and how hard it can be to find your place within it. In this post, Jared J. Wesley discusses his own experience of working as a public servant, and how The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada came to fruition.

The longest day of my public servant career featured a layover in the Regina airport.  At a national meeting of government executives, I had spent the better part of the afternoon advising a provincial government minister against appearing before a House of Commons parliamentary committee to support a piece of federal legislation.  “Think of the profile it would give us,” he told his political chief of staff.  “And think of the road trip,” replied the staffer.  “With respect,” I interrupted, “it’s not customary for provincial ministers to testify in parliamentary hearings.  In fact,” I frantically consulted my notes, “Alberta has only sent one minister before a federal committee in the past twenty years.  And you’d need approval from the Premier’s Office.” “We’re anything but customary,” I could read on the minister’s face. “It actually lowers your status,” I went on.  “You should engage your federal counterparts on a government to government basis.  It preserves your authority – your government’s authority – as opposed to being treated like just another federal stakeholder.”

The last line felt almost rehearsed; I had written a briefing note on it just a day before.  I was told to stand down, as the minister placed a call to the Premier’s Office.  I placed a call of my own, to my executive director.  Within a few hours, the Ottawa trip had been shelved.  I found that out while sitting in the Regina airport, listening to the minister tell insensitive jokes to his staff within earshot of a dozen other travellers.  I tried my best to ignore it, and pretended to be on my phone to avoid eye contact. The situation worsened when we arrived back in Calgary to find that our connecting flight to Edmonton had been canceled due to a blizzard.  While I was on my blackberry booking a hotel for the night, the minister grabbed my phone.  He told me that taxpayers wouldn’t stand for it, and ushered me into a waiting minivan he’d rented.  Over the course of the five-hour, stormy, midnight drive, he regaled us with even more offensive commentary, mostly directed at his political opponents.  I arrived home in time to change clothes for work.  I didn’t tell anyone the story until the minister left office years later, and even then, concealed his name and framed it as a cautionary tale.

At the time, I had spent my entire adult life studying politics. I’d written a few books and a few more journal articles about party politics and policymaking. But none of it had prepared me for the day-to-day interactions like those just described. While they may not have the privilege of working directly with elected officials, new public servants confront similar knowledge gaps in their first weeks on the job. If they are like me, they quickly realize that government is more complex, yet somehow more informal, than their textbooks and professors described. While useful, theories of democracy, frameworks of public administration, and historical knowledge fit uneasily with the fast-paced, evolving nature of public service in Canada. Core concepts like accountability take on entirely new meanings. Beyond the public sector bargain that dictates you must provide “fearless advice and loyal implementation,” bureaucrats realize they have multiple responsibilities, are accountable to a whole host of people, and are subject to a wide range of forces seldom covered in assigned readings and seminar discussions. Relationships with elected officials, supervisors, deputy ministers, colleagues in other organizations, friends and family, and the general public are all at play in a public servant’s work. Fortunately, ethical dilemmas like the ones I encountered are few and far between. Yet navigating these various modes of accountability can be challenging nonetheless.

As former public servants, Alex Marland and I know this first-hand.  Learning new subject matter can be difficult enough when you join a new department or unit.  On-the-job training seldom covers the “small-p politics” involved in public service work, leaving you to read between the lines on various organization charts to figure out where you fit into the broader government structure.  This can be vexing for interns and new public servants, and even some long-time bureaucrats lack a firm understanding of how government actually works.  That is why we wrote The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada.

At around 100 pages, it is a short, practical primer about how modern government operates. The book offers an insider’s perspective on how public service sits at the nexus of theory and practice, politics and professionalism. It is written in an accessible style suitable for anyone seeking to learn more about the Canadian system of government. The book contains a summary of core concepts about government and working in the public service. In it, we explain the linkages between politics, public administration, and public policy, dispelling many myths about how public servants should remain a-political in their day-to-day work. For new or would-be public servants, the Guide offers advice about life in public administration – what to expect and what to do to reach your full potential. We have included tips from bureaucratic colleagues for improving your performance and carving your career path.

The Guide wouldn’t have provided letter-for-letter advice on how to deal with the minister in the Regina airport, or on that snowy ride home to Edmonton.  But it would have given me a better sense of my own role in the situation.  If you are looking for a concise overview about government in Canada, and your place within it, The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada is written for you.

If you want to find out more about The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.

Jared J. Wesley is a pracademic—a practicing political scientist and former public servant—whose career path to the University of Alberta’s Department of Political Science has included senior management positions in provincial public services. While in the bureaucracy, he gained valuable experience in the development of public policy and intergovernmental strategy. He also served as Director of Learning and Development, establishing policies and curriculum to train provincial public servants. As an Associate Professor of Political Science, he studies and teaches the politics of bureaucracy and the bureaucracy of politics.

Alex Marland is a professor of political science at Memorial University in St. John’s and a former public servant in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Alex’s interest in the practical side of governance is grounded in his discreet research interviews with politicians, political staff, and public servants. His book Brand Command: Canadian Politics and Democracy in the Age of Message Control (UBC Press 2016) won the Donner Prize for Best Public Policy Book by a Canadian.

Thinking Government

Author David Johnson introduces the fourth edition of his bestselling public administration textbook, Thinking Government, and explains how a knowledge of the federal government and its public service is necessary for understanding current political, social, and economic issues.

Who says Canadian politics and government is boring? As we enter 2017, the federal Liberal government of Justin Trudeau has a lot on its plate: promoting the development of oil pipelines to the United States and to the Pacific tidewater all the while seeking to meet Canada’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a way to address global climate change; trying to kick-start a sluggish economy through infrastructure spending and corresponding deficit-financing while also working to show fiscal prudence; and trying to improve the quality of Canadian healthcare programming while keeping costs down, patients content, and provincial premiers not up in arms. Throw in a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, initiatives to legalize marijuana, electoral reform, a new Canadian peacekeeping mission to Africa, the purchase of new military jets and ships, and you get the picture.

But there’s more. There’s always more. The American presidential election last November just made Prime Minister Trudeau’s life a whole lot more difficult. Rather than having to deal with a more ideological soul-mate in Hillary Clinton, Trudeau now has to work with Donald Trump. We can’t help but wonder what those meetings will be like. Does the new American President know that over a billion dollars in trade goods moves across the Canadian-American border every day? He’ll soon find out, with Trudeau and his diplomats working to educate the President and his White House staff on the importance of the Canadian-American relationship.

And closer to home our prime minister has simmering problems of his own making. The Cash-for-Access issue has the potential to become a running sore for his government if he doesn’t take corrective action. Once again, a Liberal government is facing pointed questions about how ethical and accountable it is for its method of raising party finances and its policy-making function.

Thinking GovernmentSo there couldn’t be a better time for the arrival of the fourth edition of Thinking Government: Public Administration and Politics in Canada. This book, now a staple in public administration and public sector management courses across this country, has been fully revised and updated to take account of the demise of the Conservative government of Stephen Harper in 2015 and the rise to power of Justin Trudeau and his team. In the election of that year, Trudeau repeatedly said that “in Canada, better is always possible.” We now get to assess how well he and his government can match campaign rhetoric with policy reality.

All the core attributes that made Thinking Government the “go-to book” on Canadian public administration have been preserved in this latest edition. The introduction and the first chapter set the stage for what’s to come, giving readers a compelling look at the major social and economic issues that all federal governments are called upon to deal with as they strive to govern this country well. The second chapter takes readers into the world of ideas and ideologies and how they shape the way leaders, governments, and we as citizens think about power and politics and policies, and what the role of governments should be in this society. If anyone ever questioned the worth of studying ideology as a means to understanding governmental behaviour, the Harper years drove home the truth that all leaders and governments are ideological and they seek power to achieve ideological ends. After nine years of conservative rule we are back to a liberally-minded government. But how liberal will Trudeau be? Thinking Government poses some questions and offers yardsticks by which we can measure this.

Central chapters in the book provide deep background to the structures of the federal government and its public service and the power relations between elected ministers and senior public servants. The fundamentals of organizational theory are covered in Chapter 5 while individual chapters give students in-depth coverage of both financial and human relations management. Latter chapters address issues dealing with on-going concerns about management reform, ethics, accountability, and the nature and quality of political and governmental leadership.

The Thinking Government website contains loads of additional information and material for each chapter. You’ll find relevant historical analysis, case studies, extension pieces, study questions, quizzes, and downloadable extras. The website has been thoroughly updated and refreshed by Alana Lawrence and she has made sure that it’s relevant, approachable, and student-friendly.

We will both be providing regular blog posts dealing with the life and times of the federal government, while also issuing Strategic Reports on federal politics every four months or so. Alana is also the Thinking Government website’s resident New Professional and she will be providing a wealth of information and insight on everything from New Professionalism theory and institutional initiatives to advice on landing that first public sector job and launching your career.

We hope you enjoy reading Thinking Government and experiencing the website and our blog posts. You are the reason all of this exists and we wish you well as you get into thinking government.

David Johnson is Professor of Political Science at Cape Breton University and author of Thinking Government, Fourth Edition.

Alana Lawrence is a graduate of Cape Breton University and provided updates to the Thinking Government, Fourth Edition website.

Teaching Canadian Politics: Reflections on Student Interest and Course Feedback

Andrea Lawlor, Department of Political Science, King’s University College, Western University and Erin Crandall, Department of Politics, Acadia University

Courses on Canadian politics are not always the first pick for university students interested in political science. It may be that American politics, with its sensational headlines, or the pluralistic and conflict-driven nature of international politics, attract students as they become more aware of their own place in the world. But there are important reasons why students can benefit from an understanding of the political institutions, processes, and people that make up the Canadian regime. As professors who teach Canadian politics, our goal is not only to educate our students about these topics, but also to show them why Canadian politics matters, particularly as it applies to their own roles as citizens and residents of Canada. And while there are undoubtedly many different paths to this goal, it is helpful to reflect on what works, what doesn’t, and why. With that in mind, we’d like to briefly share our own experiences teaching introductory Canadian politics, as well as the results of a student survey we ran at the beginning and end of our courses.

Canadian Regime 6e

Though we teach at different universities (King’s University College at Western University and Acadia University), the similarities between our courses—second-year, small class size, over a full year—and our shared interest in teaching Canadian politics, prompted us to collaborate on our course design for the 2015-16 academic year. We used the same texts, The Canadian Regime and Canadian Politics (from University of Toronto Press), and also collaborated on the design of two in-class simulations.

Discussing how we might retool our existing courses to energize the learning environment, we decided to eliminate both term-end exams in favour of smaller quizzes throughout the year to give students a more consistent barometer of how they were performing in the class. We also added a practicum component—in our case, two two-week simulations of the Canadian political environment to help students put what they learned into practice and to work on both their written and verbal communication skills.


In order to better understand students’ knowledge and interest in Canadian politics, we designed a two-part survey for students to comment on their existing familiarity with the subject matter and their preferred modes of learning.* Our goal here was to measure how our students felt about the study of politics (Canadian and otherwise), their study habits, and what they wanted out of a second-year course in Canadian politics. The endline quiz also measured what they thought of the course components. Of course, we can hardly generalize from the changes we observe in our limited data, but the results, descriptive though they may be, were encouraging.

Starting with students’ interest in and knowledge of Canadian politics, we observed that both increased from the start of term in September to the completion of the course in April. We measured their increase in knowledge in two ways: how knowledgeable they believed themselves to be (self-reporting) and how well they were able to answer a battery of questions about material related to Canadian politics. Over 95% of students reported that they felt very or somewhat knowledgeable in April, compared with only 34% the previous September. We also saw a slight increase in the number of questions answered correctly in a short quiz on Canadian politics embedded in both surveys.

While the increase in self-reported Canadian political knowledge may simply signal that (a) we’re doing our jobs and (b) students are doing theirs, we take heart at the self-reported increase in interest in Canadian politics (from 43% in September to 76% in April). These results are particularly encouraging if we consider that, in September, 78% of students reported taking the class because it was required for their degree (compared with only 67% who reported taking the course because it sounded interesting and 25% who reported feeling guilty about knowing little about Canadian politics).

CdnPols_Knowledge of Canadian Politics

CdnPols_Reasons for Taking Canadian Politics

CdnPols_Interest in Canadian PoliticsWe also sought to measure whether participation in the course may have encouraged civic participation—namely voting (though voting is far from the only mode of civic participation discussed in our classes). We know from Elections Canada’s statistics on voting in the 2015 federal election that participation amongst voters aged 18 to 24 increased an impressive 18.3 percentage points to 57.1% (from 38.8% in 2011). This national uptick was even more apparent in our classes where nearly 95% of eligible students voted (33% of those surveyed were international students and therefore not eligible to vote and 5% had not reached the voting age by the time of the election).

Regarding the teaching tools used in the course, over 80% of students rated The Canadian Regime and Canadian Politics as useful. We selected these texts because we believe that they balance coverage of key concepts, issues and institutions, with their brevity and easy-to-read style. Because the course was redesigned with these texts in mind, we were pleased to find that 83% of students reported that they enjoyed the topics selected for study.

The most significant change to our courses was the institution of the two-week simulations. We think that these simulations in particular proved to be an engaging and effective learning tool. In the first semester, we ran a model Canadian Parliament, which had students divided into federal political parties. Each party was responsible for researching and drafting a bill that they would then introduce and attempt to pass through the model House of Commons. Students had to tackle the legislative process in a minority government situation, requiring them to apply the rules of responsible government that they had learned earlier in the semester, while also navigating the more partisan challenges of coalition building and political negotiation.

The second simulation was a First Ministers’ Conference, which had the students divided between federal and provincial governments, and the Assembly of First Nations. The conference was convened for the purpose of drafting a new health care accord, but governments were assigned competing objectives and varying budgets to simulate the political and fiscal challenges that governments face when working on major social policy initiatives. Here students were tasked with researching and completing policy briefs for their government, while again navigating the unique challenges associated with political negotiation. While students’ enthusiasm for these simulations was fairly evident in class, this was confirmed in the year-end survey where nearly 94% of students who responded reported that they were a useful, hands-on activity.

Undertaking these surveys at the beginning and end of our courses proved a helpful tool to better understand students’ interest, knowledge, and approaches to studying Canadian politics and provided us with a better, subject-specific barometer of students’ goals and opinions than standard teaching evaluations. While the survey confirmed our impression that students often begin Canadian politics courses with a relatively limited interest in the topic, it also showed that a course that provides modes of learning outside of the general evaluation metrics can help to increase student interest. In particular, the popularity of the simulations suggest that interactive class activities may contribute to stimulating this interest and we plan to continue to use simulations in lieu of exams in our courses going forward.

Ultimately, there are many different ways for instructors to reflect on the successes and failures of each course they teach. A pre-/post-survey is one such method, and has particular utility when trying out new pedagogical techniques. Our own findings helped us triangulate the courses’ strengths and areas for improvement through gauging students’ preferences, behaviours, and outcomes at two different time points. The results are helping us improve our approaches to teaching and our students’ learning experiences in Canadian politics.

*We collaborated with Erin Tolley (University of Toronto, Mississauga) in the design of the two-part survey.

The Canadian Environment in Political Context

To mark the publication of The Canadian Environment in Political Context, the author, Andrea Olive, provides an overview of the book’s contents in addition to reflecting on why she decided to write the book and how its approach will benefit students.

Canadian Environment in Political Context_FINALThe Canadian Environment in Political Context is a direct outcome of my own cross-border and cross-discipline background. I grew up in Saskatchewan and moved to Alberta and then Nova Scotia for university. After that, I hopped across the border to Washington DC to work for a lobby group in higher education. From there it was a quick jump to Indiana for my PhD. While all my academic degrees are in the discipline of political science, my research tends to cross over into geography, environmental studies, Indigenous studies, and public law. I started my academic career at the University of Michigan-Dearborn where I taught American environmental policy and researched endangered species conservation and Arctic issues. In 2012, I returned home to Canada and took a position at the University of Toronto where I am officially cross-appointed between the departments of political science and geography. I now teach Canadian environmental policy. Since the Canadian political system is so different from the US system, I have had to reorient myself in order to understand the environment inside a parliamentary democracy.

This book is based on my experience of teaching environmental policy in a political science department for the past six years. What I have come to realize is that you cannot understand environmental policy until you understand federalism. This is truer in Canada than the US since sub-national jurisdictions in Canada (the provinces and to some extent the territories) have enormous power in natural resource development and property regulations. You also cannot fully grasp environmental policy without knowledge of Indigenous politics (in the North but also across the country) and recent Supreme Court decisions. Canadian politics is fascinating. Even more so, putting Canadian environmental policy into its political context is both enthralling and necessary.

The book is organized into twelve chapters that in many respects reflect twelve different lectures or modules in my undergraduate course. But more than just lectures, the chapters should reflect the thousands of conversations that I have had with students, colleagues, and policy makers in recent years.

The book begins with an overview of Canada’s environmental track record from coast to coast to coast. The next two chapters present a broad outline of the Canadian political system and policy process. The fourth chapter is a sweeping history of environmentalism in Canada, focusing on the “waves” in the twentieth century, and then the inertia under the most recent Conservative government. Chapters five through eight are issue focused: endangered species, water, land, and energy. Understanding the role of the federal government and the provinces is the key focus, but attention is also given to the role of cities, non-governmental organizations, and citizens in each issue-area. Aboriginal politics is the topic of chapter nine and provides the reader with an introduction to Indigenous peoples in Canada as well as a history of aboriginal law and environmental policy across the country. This flows nicely into chapter ten, which focuses on the North and Far North where First Nations and Inuit play a large role in natural resource management and environmental policy making (and implementation). However, the chapter also focuses on energy politics and international governance via the Arctic Council. Chapter eleven places the Canadian environment into a global context, and explains the country’s role in international agreements on environmental issues like biodiversity, hazardous chemicals, and climate change. Finally, the concluding chapter provides both a summary of the book’s main points as well as a forward-looking account of Canada in the twenty-first century. Ultimately hopeful, the book posits that the best environmental policies lie ahead.

The obvious intention of the book is to help undergraduate students understand how the Canadian political system, namely federalism, shapes environmental policy and law in the country. However, the book should also engage readers and inspire deeper exploration into the concepts and issues discussed in the twelve chapters. American readers will be able to draw contrasts to their own political system in which federalism is organized differently and, consequently, plays into environmental policy differently. Since Canada and the US are so deeply intertwined from both an economic and an environmental standpoint, the book covers many topics that can best be understood in a North American context. Similarly, other international readers should hopefully be able to understand why Canada makes environmental policy (or fails to make policy) the way it does. Ultimately, I hope all readers finish the book with a new appreciation of the Canadian environment and a desire to change the way they think and act toward a variety of environmental issues.

Andrea Olive is Assistant Professor of Political science and Geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Her most recent book is Land, Stewardship, and Legitimacy: Endangered Species Policy in Canada and the United States.

Thinking Government

To accompany the new edition of Thinking Government: Politics and Public Administration in Canada published this summer, author David Johnson completely revamped the book’s website. The open access site, www.thinkinggovernment.com, now includes self-study short answer and multiple choice questions for students, further case studies and topical discussions, PDFs of figures and tables from the book for use in lectures, and Strategic Reports by Professor Johnson posted each semester tying current events in Canadian politics to the study of public administration.

The second of these reports follows below. Visit www.thinkinggovernment.com to read the first report, “The 2011 Federal Election,” or to browse the chapter-by-chapter resources available.

See Thinking Government: Politics and Public Administration in Canada, Third Edition, to purchase a copy of the book.

New Leaders and New Power

By David Johnson, Professor of Political Science, Cape Breton University

Politics, government, and public policy are all about continuity. As you study politics and government you can find long-term patterns of behaviour, policy approaches, and ideas that serve as strategic anchors for parties and governments. Thus the importance of knowing the ideological orientation of parties and governments, and the long-established policies and programs which governments inherit, like the Canada Health Act, official bilingualism, and the Charter of Rights.

But politics and government are also about change, and we saw this focus in August. The death of NDP leader Jack Layton was a shock to many people, and the outpouring of emotion at his state funeral was a fitting tribute to someone who devoted his life to serving the public interest.

And now, federal New Democrats must engage in the hard work of finding a new leader.

What type of person does the NDP need at the helm? Without getting into an assessment of personalities, certain basic requirements come to mind when thinking about the types of qualifications the next leader should possess.

First off, the person needs to be fluently bilingual. This is now a core requirement of any federal party leader who seriously desires to become prime minister. And given the remarkable breakthrough of the NDP in Quebec in the last election, the need for a bilingual leader who can communicate with Quebec caucus members in French, as well as appeal to Quebecois voters in their mother tongue, is essential.

And given the importance of Quebec to the NDP, the next leader needs to be someone who can maintain and increase NDP support in Quebec. This would mean a leader comfortable with advancing elements of a Quebecois nationalist agenda within federal politics while promoting to Quebecois the benefits of Canadian national unity and the role of a strong federal government in developing social and environmental policy.

Meanwhile, this leader also needs to be seen by English Canadians as someone they can trust to lead this country, someone who will promote the interests of Canada against Quebecois separatists, and who sees the virtue of a strong federal presence in this country in contrast to parochial provincial interests.

And the leadership requirements keep coming. Any federal NDP leader needs to be a pragmatist. Someone who is capable of managing the inner machinery of the party, of building the grassroots of the party organization, and recruiting the team of candidates, party workers, policy analysts, communication specialists, and campaign managers who will take the party into the next federal election.

As head of the official opposition, the NDP leader must also be pragmatic in developing a party platform and set of core policy and program objectives that will resonate with a majority, or at least a strong plurality of Canadians in the years leading up to the 2015 election. Within the Canadian constitution the official opposition is a government-in-waiting, with all that entails. The moderate centre has always shaped Canadian federal politics, so the NDP now has to show that it has a moderate yet progressive policy and program message deserving of support. And it will be the leader’s responsibility to develop and fine-tune that message.

Yet, any NDP leader needs to balance pragmatism with principle. The NDP is a social democratic party with strong elements of democratic socialism within its heart and soul as a social movement. NDP leaders have always had to balance the requirements of being a political party seeking electoral victory with being a social movement advancing progressive left-of-centre ideas and ideals for building a more compassionate and equal society. This balancing act is never easy. If done poorly, if the social movement facet overwhelms the interests of the party, then electoral oblivion is all too often the result.

But if this balancing act is done well, if the appeal of social democratic pragmatism can be married to the values and spirit of democratic socialism, then electoral success can be achieved, as witnessed by NDP election victories in various provinces. Such NDP success has never been seen at the federal level. But 2015 beckons.

And finally, the next NDP leader has to be a great communicator and defender of NDP values and policies. He or she needs to be capable of clearly explaining and promoting New Democrat policy and programs to an electorate that historically has been ambivalent and even skeptical of NDP ideas and policies.

The Return of Parliament

While the NDP is busy looking for a new leader, however, the government will be busy implementing its agenda, with the help of its newly-minted majority power. Over this autumn we will get a good feel for the Conservative majority government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Given his new majority, the prime minister knows that he has the numbers to win every vote in the House of Commons between now and the next federal election in the fall of 2015.

This gives Stephen Harper great power, as well as stability and comfort. Unlike his first five years in power when he was facing a minority parliament that could have defeated him on a moment’s notice, the prime minister now has the luxury of majority support in the Commons, meaning that he can devote more time to thinking about long-term policy rather than short-term electoral advantage.

And in terms of policy, we already know a good deal about what to expect from the Harper government over this fall session. As the prime minister promised in the spring election, his Conservative majority government will move quickly on their “tough on crime” agenda, including increasing penalties for offenders, making criminal sentences longer, getting tougher on parole eligibility, building more prisons, eliminating the long-gun registry, and reintroducing draconian “anti-terror” legislation allowing for lengthy preventative detention of those suspected of terrorist activities.

In last spring’s budget the government also announced it will begin the phase-out of the per-vote subsidy for federal political parties beginning this year. By 2015 all federal parties will bear a far greater responsibility for funding their activities through their own fundraising.

The prime minister has also announced that a clear focus for the government will be economic management. As the world economy confronts perilous times, with the Euro-zone facing sovereign debt crises of fearful magnitude, and the United States struggling to cope with a massive national deficit, debt, stagnant economic growth, high unemployment, and political gridlock, the international community may well be facing the advent of another recession.

And should the “R” word become reality, governments in Europe and the United States will be in a less effective state to address a recession than they were in 2009 since they have less fiscal capacity now compared to then. Stimulus packages totaling hundreds of billions of dollars will be unlikely forthcoming, meaning the effects of a recession will be more long-lasting and deeply felt.

Canada is better suited than most countries to cope with current and future economic uncertainty given our stronger fiscal position, but the effects of tougher economic times will be felt by Canadians through reductions in federal government services. This fall the Harper government will continue its strategic operating review, requiring all departments and Crown corporations to reduce program spending by 5 to10 per cent. The government is seeking total spending cuts of $4 billion per year for the next few years up to a total of $11 billion by 2014. It remains to be seen where these cuts will hit hardest.

And beyond these initiatives, the government will have a number of other files to address: enhancing Canadian foreign trade and coping with increased American protectionism; negotiating a border perimeter agreement with the United States; managing the transition to a training role for the Canadian military in Afghanistan; dealing with a Palestinian bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations; eliminating the marketing monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board; and addressing ongoing international concerns that Canada is not taking global climate change seriously.

But as the Harper government works to manage these numerous policy files, it will likely face a less than focused parliamentary opposition for the simple reason that both New Democrats and Liberals will be busy with their own internal party politics. The NDP will be busy with their leadership race and the Liberals, under interim-leader Bob Rae, will be working to rebuild their party from the grassroots up, with much attention necessarily being devoted to developing an internal party fundraising system capable of sustaining the party for the long-term.

So, as Parliament once again gets down to work, we will witness the true face of the Harper Conservative government. To many Canadians it will be far more conservative than they would like. To others, it likely won’t be conservative enough. But to the prime minister, it will be exactly the way he wants it. Because in this 41st parliament, he holds all the aces.

David Johnson