Fate of Harper’s policies: Pandas can stay, but omnibus bills may go

Some of the policies and laws put in place under Stephen Harper may survive the transition of power in Ottawa. Others will not.
Some of the policies and laws put in place under Stephen Harper may survive the transition of power in Ottawa. Others will not. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren

As the Liberals launch into their four-year majority mandate, some elements of Stephen Harper’s legacy are likely to endure while others are expected to be repealed or significantly revised.

Canada’s commitment to child and maternal health initiatives, for instance, may continue, and there are no known plans to resurrect the federal long-gun registry.

It’s also unlikely that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be booting China’s pandas and their newborn offspring out of the country. Because, let’s face it, they are awfully cute.


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Still, there are numerous Conservative policies and laws that could be reversed or tweaked, with some already headed for the scrap heap under Trudeau. Here are just a few examples of the changes already underway, and those potentially still to come:

The ‘un-muzzling’ of federal experts

Orders came down from on-high late last week letting government scientists know that they can talk openly to the media without going through a media manager, something that had been required under the previous government. Over the weekend, the mother of a fisheries biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans shared a message from her son on her Facebook page, quoting him as saying:

“It is official. At an all staff meeting today with some of the best scientists in the world … we were told that it’s ok to talk to the media or anyone about what we do without permission. That’s how surreal it was.”

The return of the long-form census

This controversial decision, reportedly even regretted by the minister who oversaw it, has already been reversed. The Liberals announced last week that, starting in 2016, their government will require completion of the long-form census that is sent every five years to 20 per cent of Canadian households. So far, it is unclear what penalties might be applied to households that don’t cooperate.


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Universal Child Care Benefit cheques

The last of the Conservatives’ Universal Child Care Benefit cheques are probably now in the mail. As soon as the new year, depending on what is accomplished when Parliament resumes in early December, the taxable cheques of $160 a month for each child under six and $60 a month for kids ages six through 17 will be replaced by the “Canada Child Benefit.”

That new benefit will differ in that it will be tax-free for parents, according to the Liberals, with the amount received based on family income.

Bills bills bills

Perhaps the most controversial piece of legislation ever tabled by the Harper government was anti-terror bill C-51, brought forward in the wake of the attack on Parliament Hill in 2014. The Liberals have pledged to amend it, potentially adding a parliamentary oversight committee to monitor Canada’s intelligence-gathering agencies.

Omnibus bills, huge pieces of legislation that cover diverse and sometimes unrelated topics, may become a thing of the past. The Liberal platform pledges to change the House of Commons Standing Orders “to bring an end to this undemocratic practice.”

And then there’s Bill C-24, which new Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum has promised will be amended to get rid of sections that allow Ottawa to revoke the citizenship of dual citizens convicted of terrorism-related offences, high treason or similar serious crimes.

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Mandatory minimums

Newly appointed Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told CTV over the weekend that her government will “definitely” review the use of mandatory minimum sentences brought in under the Harper government as part of its tough-on-crime agenda. Again, the timeline on this is unclear. The courts have already weighed in on the controversial topic, however, with the Supreme Court of Canada recently striking down a law that set mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes.

Refugee healthcare

Citing a need to save money and reduce bogus refugee applications, the Conservative government made significant cuts to the Interim Federal Health (IFH) program in 2012. The changes stripped refugees (except those resettled by the federal government itself) of health insurance for prescription medications and coverage for “supplementary” services like physiotherapy, as well as emergency dental and vision care. Eventually, after a federal court decision, the government re-instated some services.

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The Liberals have now pledged to restore the original IFH program, with minister McCallum saying the matter should be settled within “a matter of months.”

The bombing mission against ISIL

So far, Trudeau’s cabinet and the prime minister himself have given little information about how and when Canada will pull its planes out of the skies over Iraq and Syria. Canada may remain a part of the bombing mission against ISIL until March (the original stated end to its commitment under the previous government) or bow out early. Either way, Trudeau has pledged a renewed emphasis on training local troops, which could translate to more Canadians on the ground.

READ MORE: Meet Harjit Sajjan: Canada’s new defence minister and Afghan combat veteran

Her Majesty gets the boot

A minor but noticeable change also took place in the building housing the Global Affairs department over the weekend. The portrait of Queen Elizabeth II that hung in the main atrium was gone come Monday morning. It was replaced with two paintings by Quebec artist Alfred Pellan that had previously hung in the space until 2011, when former minister John Baird ordered them taken down and replaced with the portrait of Canada’s Sovereign.

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