The Chatelaine Q&A: Prime Minister Stephen Harper

On child care, the economy and why some women might have trouble attaining positions of leadership.

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The Chatelaine Q&A: Stephen Harper

Illustration, Sabrina Smelko.

After three mandates and nine years in power, Prime Minister Stephen Harper should be the candidate we know best. Yet somehow he proves elusive, and often downright divisive: Is he the firm hand on the economic tiller, guiding us safely through choppy global waters, or is he slowly chipping away at the progressive values that define our country? We spoke with the Prime Minister in a rare one-on-one interview on September 7, shortly after the photo of a Syrian boy’s drowned body galvanized the world and an internal government report exposed harsh realities facing Canadian women.

This morning, the CBC reported on an internal report by Status of Women Canada. It’s a troubling portrait, stating that Canada is falling behind the developed world on women’s equality, and poverty rates are climbing for elderly single women and single-parent families headed by women. 

I haven’t seen the report but I can tell you some contrary statistics. Under this government we have reduced child poverty to record levels. This government has brought in a record increase of the guaranteed income supplement for vulnerable seniors. We have the lowest levels of senior poverty, I think, ever. So I don’t know what the basis of that is. The metrics I’ve seen are good, but obviously we are always looking to improve.

The report states that Canada is lacking a comprehensive national strategy to address violence against women. You’ve often spoken about protecting the safety of women abroad, especially in discussing our military actions in Syria, so how do you reconcile these two approaches?

First of all, I would certainly take issue with that conclusion. No government has done more to focus on criminal violence against vulnerable people. We’ve put new funding into family-violence prevention, things like elder abuse. We’ve given our law-enforcement agencies increased resources to deal with these kinds of problems, and most importantly, we brought in a series of criminal-justice measures to deal with sex offenders, to deal with child abusers, to deal with those who commit violence generally, to make sure they are imprisoned and not easily released and pardoned. As a government we will do whatever we can to fight any kind of violence against women or other people.

Yes, tough-on-crime measures are in place. But what about the social causes of violence against women?

The agenda of the other parties and previous governments has been to look for social explanations but not actually deal with offenders, and that’s not acceptable to us. Criminal violence must be treated as such.


The Chatelaine Q&A: Thomas Mulcair


And how does that sit in relation to your policies about women’s security abroad?

You’ve raised the whole issue of the military mission against the so-called Islamic State, against ISIS, and the systematic violence that it and other jihadist groups are committing around the world. Obviously we’re involved militarily to prevent that and we provide humanitarian assistance. Part of our foreign policy in that region and others has been to focus on women’s equality, to fight against things like early and forced marriage and what we call barbaric cultural practices, like female genital mutilation.

The UN has called for an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, and that same request has been made at home by various First Nations leaders and victims of violence, including 16-year-old Rinelle Harper. But you have said it isn’t “high on your radar.” Why isn’t it? 

I haven’t said that at all. What I said is that—

That was in an interview with Peter Mansbridge.

We have done some 40 studies and we think the issue has been studied to death. Obviously this is still a disturbing phenomenon, which is why we put resources into prevention and investigation and into enforcement. It’s time to get on with action. We have a lot of studies and a lot of data and we haven’t really seen anything that says there are actually knowledge gaps there.

The Universal Child Care Benefit has been enhanced, but $160 taxable dollars a month won’t cover two days of child care in Toronto, where I live. Does the government have any responsibility to families beyond this benefit?

Absolutely. The government’s approach has been to really try and assist families with all types of child-care situations. In our own family, Laureen and I, raising our kids, we used a mix. Sometimes the kids were at home, sometimes they were cared for by their grandparents, and we used also local institutional child care part-time as well, which was actually a great a experience for the kids. So we try to have programs that will suit any kind of arrangement. I think the help is substantial. Does it pay for everything? No, of course not, but I don’t think anybody thinks the government is going to pay for everything.


The Chatelaine Q&A: Justin Trudeau


A 2005 Royal Bank report estimates that, as a result of the gender pay gap, the annual lost-income potential of Canadian women is $125 billion. What role does government have in ensuring women receive equal pay for equal work?

As a matter of policy, our view is that there should be equal pay for work of equal value. Over 40 percent of senior executives in our government are female. With Minister [Kellie] Leitch at the Status of Women, we’ve been fairly aggressive in trying to push both government appointments in the public sector and greater representation for women on corporate boards and in senior positions. We’ll continue to pursue these changes. I think they’re positive for organizations. You kind of shake your head when you see organizations that aren’t embracing what is actually good for them.

How do you see the presence of women at the table affecting the work that you do?

It’s nothing but positive. The one observation I would make is I think, for whatever reason, women are often less aggressive in pushing themselves forward than men are, and not for any good reason I’ve seen, so this is obviously something we want to continue to encourage throughout society. I don’t think we should rest until women are fully equal partners in the management of organizations.

Yet the Conservatives have the fewest female candidates of the four parties in this election, at 18 percent. Is that something you’re hoping to address? 

I don’t appoint candidates unless it’s a necessity. We have a fully democratic process. I think we’ve had a pretty good record in the past of having women actually run where they can be elected, and actually get elected, and so I think that’s the ultimate measure.


The Chatelaine Q&A: Elizabeth May


Canada usually accepts 10,000 refugees per year, but that’s still 1/60th of 1 percent of the total global refugee population. There has been criticism that we’re losing our reputation as a compassionate nation. 

It’s based on nothing at all. On the contrary, Canada remains per capita, the largest refugee resettler in the world.

Look, in terms of refugees coming here, the government has been clear: We’re going to accept more and will find ways of expediting the process. But we’re also very clear that it’s not going to be first come, first served. It’s not just who can push their way to the front of the line. We’re going to find a process that makes sure that we have genuine refugees versus economic migrants and others, and we focus on the most vulnerable. Given that we’re dealing here with a war zone, and an area occupied by terrorists, we need to make sure that the country’s security is protected.

Statistics Canada data confirmed Canada’s economy slipped into official recession in the first half of this year. Of course, your election image is rooted in sound economic management. So how are we as Canadians to make sense of that contradiction?

Well, I think it’s actually pretty straightforward. The Bank of Canada itself has said we didn’t have a general economic contraction. On the contrary, in the first six months of the year, we actually saw employment growth, we saw government revenues increase and we saw non-energy exports increasing substantially. Really, what’s happened is there’s been a serious effect on the economy, on the regional economy, particularly in Alberta, due to the rapid contraction in energy prices. And I’m not trying to minimize that—

Yes, because for those people, it feels like a recession. 

Yes, I know, I live in Alberta. It’s very real. And look, that’s an issue we’re going to have to deal with. We have had over the past few years a series of economic challenges thrown our way; this is the latest. Where other countries have had no job growth, have been cutting back on people in endless spirals of increasing debt and taxes, Canada has been the opposite: balanced budgets, lower taxes, greater benefits, and growing. The other guys are proposing that now is the time to spend tens of billions of dollars more and to finance that through tax increases or permanent deficits. And we would say that if you look around the world, that’s the recipe that every country that is failing has used. So we need to stay on the track we’re on.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Related:
The Chatelaine Q&A: Thomas Mulcair
The Chatelaine Q&A: Justin Trudeau
The Chatelaine Q&A: Elizabeth May

15 comments on “The Chatelaine Q&A: Prime Minister Stephen Harper

  1. I would love to see some fact checking on statements like “we have reduced child poverty to record levels” What does that even mean and from where does he get his information? Not the long form census we know.

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    • Harper has done a good job, no country in the world treats women as well as Canada, and he has protected that very well.

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      • You are drinking the Kool aid… The man has done nothing for women especially the thousands of dead and missing native women…. But yeah he’s incredible

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  2. This statement is absolutely offensive and ignorant: “The one observation I would make is I think, for whatever reason, women are often less aggressive in pushing themselves forward than men are”. In fact most of what he says in this interview is false, ignorant and he is clearly very distant from the reality of most Canadians.

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  3. Insulting to see him outright lie about helping women. His government has actively suppressed pay equity for women by eliminating the court challenges program. And I believe they have interfered with the human rights commission by eliminating investigation into cases.

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  4. He did say that an inquiry was NOT high on his radar. Unreal how he can lie and get away with it so often, there is a name for people like him-sociopath. I am no doctor but here are 10 red flags to consider about Harper. 1. Sociopaths are charming 2. Sociopaths are more spontaneous and intense than other people
    3. Sociopaths are incapable of feeling shame, guilt or remorse 4. Sociopaths invent outrageous lies about their experiences 5. Sociopaths seek to dominate others and “win” at all costs 6. Sociopaths tend to be highly intelligent 7. Sociopaths are incapable of love 8. Sociopaths speak poetically 9. Sociopaths never apologize 10. Sociopaths are delusional and literally believe that what they say becomes truth

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    • Omnipotence requires lying. Otherwise the “base” wont understand.

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    • Gerry…..you are an idiot! Think maybe YOU are a sociopath. Mr. Harper has been the best PM I have seen in my 50 years in this country and has done as much, or more for women than ANY of them. Women are well treated in our society, why are they clamouring for more? There is NOTHING a woman cannot achieve in Canada so you can go stuff yourself and the BS you are spewing.

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  5. Canada is getting dizzier and dizzier by the day, from listening to Harper spin. Fact checking and background info, as well as imagery, that is all representative of truth would behoove the Chatelaine publication. To headline only one leader, when you have interviewed all four in your story makes this piece fluffy.

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    • Chatelaine is so obviously pro-Trudeau (he DOES have good hair and knows how to wear a pair of loafers) that it is pointless to believe ANYTHING they say about Mr. Harper, they are openly hostile toward him. However, he WILL be our PM after Oct.19 and Trudeau will fade into obscurity, where he belongs.

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      • Hope tartan girl is dead wrong!!! Even if Harper ever told a truth we would still assume it is a lie.

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  6. I THINK HARPER HAS GOT IT RIGHT ESPECIALLY ABOUT SAFE IMMIGRATION TAKE A LOOK AT WHAT’S HAPPENNING IN GREAT BRITAIN AND AROUND THE WORLD. WE NEED A STRONG SMART LEADER WITH LOTS AND LOTS OF EXPERIENCE. HARPER ALL THE WAY AND THE ONLY WAY OR THIS COUNTRY WILL FIND ITSELF IN MASSIVE DEBT AND BIG SECURITY ISSUES, AS BORDER SECURITY IS GOING TO BECOME THE NUMBER ONE ISSUE, BESIDES JOBS, THAT CANADFA IS GOING TO FACE SHOULD THE NDP OR LIBERALS BE SUCCESSFUL IN THE 2015 ELECTIONS I ONLY HOPE THE CANADIAN MAJORITY FEEL AS I DO GO WITH THE WINNER HARPERS CONSERVATIVES. THANK YOU JOE ROBERTS

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  7. Harper needs to “Permanently Ban” the Seal Hunt ! Tired of seeing articles about Women’s Rights ! There are so many women in the corporate workforce, making more than their spouses and living very comfortably! And some families don’t need a second income either, while others that do, can’t find work ! There’s no balance between the ones that can’t find work, and the ones that don’t need to work!

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  8. My kids are able to put their kids in dance, swimming, gymnastics etc, because of the tax credit incentives this government promised and delivered on. We live in a relatively safe environment where we continue to EXPECT respect for ourselves and our neighbours,, which a great many citizens from a great many countries can’t do because they do not have the government to back up such a concepts. I am not happy about some of the very wasteful spending that has gone on in the past by Mr. Harper’s gov’t, when it was young and excited by the power, or the cutting of inspectors in the meat cutting industry, but in our present world, he strikes me as a seasoned leader, and the most reasonable leader in the race, because he has his plan in place and is not scrambling to wow anyone with superficial pork barrel goodies that may or may not surface. We have an overwhelming tragedy blossoming in Europe that the wonderful, generous gov’ts of Germany ,etc., wanted to solve for those terrified families, but they cannot because this problem is beyond gigantic. In this country it needs wise, cautious decision making experience, not just “VOTE FOR ME ” rhetoric. The Duffy Debacle proclaims in big letters that the “OOOPS! Well maybe this will work!” response may not be the best, but his country’s population has tremendous honoured safety nets, if not all created by his govt, supported by Mr. Harper’s gov’t, and to gain votes he hasn’t caved on his most crucial mandates to maintain our borders as, like a national epidermal, protective guardians of our treasured parts within, deciphering what will enhance from what will destroy without. We haven’t been really scared, for our economy, for our immediate personal safety, or the safety of our loved ones. Put priorities into perspective.
    This is not the VIEW. This is our ‘world’, and our lives.

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  9. I THINK THE PEOPLE OF CANADA HAD BETTER WAKE UP RE THE IMMIGRATION PROBLEM I FEEL BAD FOR THE FLIGHT OF THE IMMIGRANTS, BUT LETS NOT FORGET ABOUT OUR OWN HOME SECURITY. BRITAIN IS FACING A SURGE OF REBELLIOUS IMMIGRANTS WHO WANT ENGLAND TO BOW TO THEIR DEMANDS HOW DARE THEY. THE ONLY SENSISIBLE CHOICE IS TO VOTE FOR HARPERS CONSERVATIVES, AS HE IS THE ONLY ONE WHO IS STANDING UP FOR ALL CANADIANS AND THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS THE GUTS TO SAY THIS ON TELEVISION. WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THEIR LODGING, SCHOOLING, HEALTH CARE, UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE, ETC ETC GUESS WHO’ US THE TAX PAYERS AND WORST OF ALL THERE WON’T BE ANY APPRECIATION. NDP AND THE LIBERALS ARE ONLY THINKING ABOUT VOTES, AND NOTHING MORE. I PLEAD WITH ALL CANADIANS TO PLEASE THINK HARD BEFORE YOU VOTE BRENDA JENNINGS

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