In casual conversation, a fellow first-year once told me that they weren’t old enough to remember former prime minister Stephen Harper. This floored me.
Growing up in a town dominated by the Conservative Party and with parents who despised the Conservative platform, politics were always front-and-centre for me. My family discussed them at the dinner table, and my parents expected their children to form individual opinions.
This upbringing didn’t make me a scholar, by any means, but it forced me to pay attention. And if I have learned anything, it’s this: Stephen Harper and Andrew Scheer are fundamentally the same, and it should concern us all.
I understand that some Canadians have fond memories of the Harper days; taxes were low, there were few(er) major scandals, and the country made it out of the 2008 recession relatively unscathed. This doesn’t mean that Harper’s time as prime minister was flawless, however — his tenure left deep economic, environmental, and social wounds, some of which have yet to heal.
Outwardly, Harper espoused controlled, conservative economic policies. During the 2008 election, Harper promised that the nation would not go into deficit; in mere months, his government’s deficit valued $50 billion. Some have argued that this was necessary to mitigate the Great Recession, yet his stimulus program didn’t begin until after the recession had passed. By the end of his leadership, Harper added $150 billion to the national debt.
So, how does this relate to Scheer?
On the campaign trail, Scheer has made many of the same economic promises as his predecessor. In late May, at a campaign event in Vancouver, Scheer promised that his government would eliminate the Canadian deficit in five years. Scheer is also planning to re-introduce many of the tax policies Harper had implemented: tax credits for families with children in sports or the arts, and cuts to personal income taxes.
As of yet, Scheer has not announced how he plans to balance the budget while cutting taxes; a costed Conservative platform is expected for Oct. 11.
Throughout Harper’s time in office, the Conservative government also dismantled protections of the environment and muzzled scientists. In 2011, Harper began aggressively regulating Environment Canada’s communication with the media. His regulations forbade scientists from speaking directly to journalists, and a media control centre vetted their public statements.
After major overhauls by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, Scheer is planning to revert to Harper-era norms.
Bill C-69, legislation introduced in late 2015, re-regulates the approval process of Canadian energy projects; it forces politicians to disclose possible effects to health and the environment, and to conduct consultations with Indigenous communities. Scheer has promised to do away with these regulations, just as the Conservative government did in 2012.
Aside from his economic and environmental policies, Harper’s social stances remain a chilling legacy of his time in office. His government refused to investigate missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), passed the Anti-Terrorism Act (legislation limiting freedoms of expression and association), and promised several policies targeting Canada’s Muslim population: the “Barbaric Cultural Practices Hotline” and a niqab ban for civil servants and those accessing public services.
Scheer has not promised to re-open any of these debates, but his stances on contemporary issues show a similar mindset.
On Oct. 3 Scheer stated that he will attempt to overturn a decision made by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal: a decision to compensate First Nations families harmed by the child welfare system (on Oct. 4, the Liberal government took similar action, filing for a judicial review of the decision). He refuses to recognize the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous populations as a genocide, even after it was described as an “inescapable conclusion” by the chief commissioner of the MMIWG inquiry. To make matters worse, he attended the United We Roll rally earlier this year, supporting a movement marred by white nationalism and Islamophobia; he has since refused to apologize for his support of the event.
This is not the time for Andrew Scheer. The world is staring down the barrel of another global recession, we face an existential threat due to climate change, and the world is increasingly multicultural and interconnected; we cannot afford another leader who ignores this.
Moira Wilson is a first-year political science student at the U of O.