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YFG Blog - Leadership in North America - News - Young Fine Gael

YFG Blog - Leadership in North America

Blog Post from YFG Member, Padraig O'Sullivan

Stephen Harper is an individual who would elude most Irish people, including many of us politicos. He is the Prime Minister of Canada, a nation sometimes disparagingly referred to as America's top hat by citizens of the USA - the implications being that Canada always follows in USA's footsteps. Perhaps all of this should not come as a surprise, after all, Canadian politics has always taken a back-seat to its southern neighbour on the international stage. While this is partly due to international interest in all things American, it is also due to the perceived image of strong and effective leadership provided by the American Presidential system, a belief which is particularly dominant in an uncertain global economy.

Yet, for all the claims of strong leadership shown by President Barack Obama, the evidence points in a different direction. Having campaigned forcefully to close down the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay in 2008, this institution still remains in use, highlighting the ineffectiveness of the current President's leadership in matters pertaining to foreign policy. Obama has also shown a lack of appetite to balance the federal budget in the United States, despite the massive budget deficit. Overall, the economy has been slow during Obama's time in office. This lies in contrast to the economic performance of Canada, which has been seen to have weathered the economic storm quite well, despite having a relatively sluggish economy prior to the crisis.

On the other hand, Harper has shown strong and effective leadership during his tenure as Prime Minister. Many believed Harper would be a short lived Prime Minister, having formed the smallest minority government in Canada's history. However, he confounded his critics with victory in the 2008 election, increasing his party's seat share from 127 to 143. Harper became the first Prime Minister of the newly reformed Conservative party, the first electoral victory for the Conservatives since Brian Mulroney in 1988. However, a majority government proved elusive for Harper's Conservative Party yet again. After the 2011 election, Harper was finally able to form a majority government, in the process, also defeated the leader of the Liberal Party in his own constituency, their traditional opponents in Canadian politics.

The strength of Harper's leadership following on from the disastrous floods in Calgary may also be contrasted to that of former US President George W. Bush in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While Bush was criticised for being slow off the mark in responding to the crisis in New Orleans, Harper was quick to arrive in Calgary, where 100,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes, to meet with members of the public and also to work with other politicians, including the Mayor of Calgary and the Premier of Alberta in ensuring a swift and active response to the flooding.

However, Harper's government has also received its fair share of controversy. Critics of the Prime Minister insisted that he called the 2008 election two years early, in order to face an election prior to Canada facing more severe aspects of the global economic crisis. In December 2008, a controversial fiscal update called for budget cuts and suspension of civil servants' rights. In danger of facing a vote of no confidence in his leadership, Harper called upon the Governor-General of Canada to prorogue (or delay) parliament, leading to effective closure of parliament for almost two months.

Again, in the same parliamentary session in December 2009, Harper called for parliament to be prorogued during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, which led to widespread demonstrations in many Canadian cities. Perhaps the most controversial moment in Harper's leadership came during the 2011 Federal Election. The Robocall scandal involved members of the Conservative Party being accused of voter fraud by calling members of the public to falsely inform them that the location of their polling stations had changed. Yet again, Harper survived the ensuing crisis which resulted from this scandal.

While there are murmurs in the Canadian media that Harper may be replaced as the Conservative leader prior to the next federal election scheduled for 2015, Harper has been in this position before. Having held office for over seven years, during an economic crisis, it would be a foolish person who would write him off just yet.

Despite the many controversies surrounding his leadership of Canada, Harper has guided his country through the greatest global economic crisis since the Great Depression, and in doing so, is providing the strong and effective leadership that his counterpart President Obama could only dream of.

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