After Harper, Tracking Tories' Stance Swaps

From Opposition bench, party sees new angle on patronage appointments, pot, missing women and more.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 25 Jan 2016 |

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

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Now settled in across the aisle from Justin Trudeau's Liberals, the Conservative party has already seen a whole new angle on some major policies and practices of the previous government. Pundits of all stripes point to interim leader Rona Ambrose's new tone following several party stance reversals.

The latest tone shift came Saturday as former defence minister Jason Kenney advised the new government to avoid appointments to government offices that could be partisan in nature.

"This is a disturbing &, I believe, unprecedented violation of the independence of the permanent public service," tweeted Kenney before bringing up the Liberal choice of Matthew Mendelsohn, former head of the Mowat Centre and Liberal party advisor, for a post in the Privy Council office.

Under prime minister Stephen Harper, Conservatives came under fire for appointing political allies to public positions and pushing out people who came in under the former government, including nearly 50 patronage appointments on their way out the door last year.

Former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page expressed concern over the way the Tories handled appointments.

Like a twist on an old Liberal dictum, the swaps suggest Conservatives campaigned from the right, and now oppose from the centre.

For those keeping score, here are a few more examples of the Tories making moves toward the Liberal side of the aisle.

Saudi arms deal

One of the most talked-about policy switches came earlier this month when Tories demanded documents related to a Canadian company's arms deal with Saudi Arabia brokered through a government agency.

Foreign affairs critic Tony Clement challenged the Liberals to reveal the government assessment made of Saudi Arabia's human rights record, which is needed in order to sell weapons to a foreign nation.

It is the same assessment Clement's party refused to reveal last year while in government.

Clement was mocked and accused of hypocrisy of the highest order.

The MP from Muskoka said he was aware of his own party's refusal to release the documents, but demanding them from the Liberals was in keeping with holding them to account on their promise of transparency.

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose told a Vancouver radio station it was important to raise the issue of Saudi human rights abuses in light of the execution of senior Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr and others by the country Jan. 2.

Al-Nimr, however, was sentenced to death in 2014.

Missing, murdered women

Early in her role as Opposition leader, Ambrose said she supports an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women across Canada.

But during her time in government, Ambrose and the Conservatives flat-out refused to conduct such an inquiry.

When she was minister for the status of women from 2010 to 2013, Ambrose was often asked when there would be an inquiry or investigation into the missing women. She touted the government's plans to prevent violence against women and more recently responded simply that "at this point, there is no inquiry."

As recently as Oct. 6, Harper said there was no need for an investigation because many had already been conducted.

That stance changed Nov. 6 when Ambrose told CBC she will support the inquiry.

"If this government wants to do this study we will support it," the new party leader said. "Violence against women in the Aboriginal community is very serious and it's absolutely something I've been passionate about in my whole life."

Regulation of pot dispensaries

Not only did Ambrose speak out against Vancouver's move to regulate pot dispensaries, but during the final days of her time as minister for the department, Health Canada sent threatening letters to a baker's dozen illegal operators across Canada.

The letters, which told operators to close, came more than a month after Ambrose pledged to crack down on the dispensaries just in time for the first leg of the federal election.

Now, with Trudeau showing you can legalize pot and win an election, Ambrose has changed her tune on regulation.

Last week she told a Vancouver radio station the governing Liberals better start regulating marijuana dispensaries quickly, though pot remains illegal.

"They're unregulated, the sooner they can move on that the better to protect kids," Ambrose said.

Long-form census

In 2010 the Tories made it clear they were going to get rid of the mandatory long-form census.

Despite major opposition from the NDP and Liberals, the Tories went through with the plan. 2011 featured a shorter census handed out to Canadians.

Opposition, media and academics decried the decision, with many saying it would "dumb down" the government's understanding of Canada. In 2010 Tony Clement was staunch in his defence of the decision.

"We've heard from Canadians from all walks of life who are quite relieved that we're taking this position as well," Clement told the CBC at the time.

But that changed in November when Clement went back on the idea and admitted he would have handled the situation differently than he did in 2010.

The Liberals have said they will bring back the mandatory long-form census and Clement said he won't oppose the idea.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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