Was Stephen Harper Really Tough on Crime? A Systems and Symbolic Action Analysis
Stobbe, Mark Jacob 1957-
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In 2006, the Hon. Stephen Harper, PC became the Prime Minister of Canada after winning an election campaign in which his Conservative Party of Canada promised to get tough on crime. Over the terms of the three Harper administrations, 81 of the 399 government bills introduced in Parliament contained measures explicitly intended to increase the severity in the punishment of criminal acts. Using both descriptive and multiple regression techniques, this dissertation analyses Statistics Canada incarceration and court sentencing data to assess the substantive effect of the Harper administrations’ legislative changes. It is concluded that there was some toughening of criminal sanctions in Canada during this period, particularly for the offences of drug trafficking, production and importation. However, the toughening of sanctions was modest and left Canada’s incarceration rates stable. Judged against both government and opposition rhetoric, the carceral experience in the United States and a constructed ideal type of a tough on crime government, the substantive toughening of Canada’s criminal justice system during the Harper administrations was muted. The systems theory developed by Niklas Luhmann informs an analysis of judicial decisions and provincial government prosecution policies that concludes a federal political regime has limitations on its ability to impose substantive changes in the outcomes of Canada’s criminal justice system. The theories of symbolic action developed by Murray Edelman informs an analysis of the legislative and fiscal record of the Harper administrations to argue that much of the criminal justice program of the Harper administrations was symbolic. It appeared to be designed to generate acquiescence to the Conservative government rather than to effect a substantive toughening in the outcomes of the criminal justice system. The muted substantive effect of the Harper administration’s tough on crime program resulted from both systemic limitations on the federal government’s powers and a lack of serious intent by government actors.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteeZlotkin, Norman; Cheng, Hongming; Hansen, John; Wright, Laura; Somerville, Kara; Chutko, Krystopher
Copyright DateSeptember 2018