Stephen Harper

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Stephen Harper

The Honourable Stephen Joseph Harper, PC, MP, MA (born April 30, 1959, in Toronto, Ontario) is leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, and leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

One of the founding members of the Reform Party he served as an MP from 1993 to 1997 before leaving to head the National Citizens Coalition lobby group. After the ouster of leader Stockwell Day Harper became leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2002. In 2003 he successfully reached an agreement with Tory leader Peter Mackay to merge to Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservatives. In March 2004 Harper was elected leader of the new Conservative Party.



Harper was born and raised in Toronto and attended Richview Collegiate Institute before finding employment in the oil and gas industry and moving to Alberta. He attended the University of Calgary, receiving a Masters degree in economics, and lectured at the university. His links to the university remain strong, with his most prominent policy advisor being professor Tom Flanagan. Harper married Laureen Teskey in 1991 they have two children Benjamin, born in 1996, and Rachel, born in 1999.

He first became involved in politics in opposition to the National Energy Policy and the harm he felt it was doing to Alberta's energy industry. In 1985 he became an aid to Tory MP Jim Hawkes, but Harper became quickly disillusioned with the government of Brian Mulroney and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. He was especially critical of the PC Party's fiscal policy. He left the party in 1986.

He was recommended to Preston Manning, the founder of the Reform Party, by one of Harper's professors. Manning was impressed by the young man, and Harper was invited to participate in the founding of the party. At age 28, he gave an important speech at Reform's founding convention in Winnipeg, and is credited with creating the Party's 1988 election platform.

In the 1988 federal election, Harper ran for a House of Commons seat in Calgary, but lost by a wide margin to his former employer Progressive Conservative candidate Jim Hawkes. He fared better in the 1993 election, in which he won the riding of Calgary West for the Reform Party defeating Hawkes. Harper arrived in Parliament with a large group of new Members of Parliament (MPs). Harper quickly became one of the core members of the Reform Party parliamentary delegation. In parliament Harper became known as a staunch fiscal conservative, but somewhat more moderate on other issues. For instance he was one of only two Reform MPs to vote in favour of the Canadian gun registry.

Harper left his seat before the 1997 election to serve as vice-president, then as president, of the National Citizens Coalition (NCC), a conservative lobby group. With the NCC, Harper launched an ultimately unsuccessful legal battle against federal election finance reform. After the poor showing in the 2000 election of the Canadian Alliance, Reform's successor, a disappointed Harper joined with other western conservative figures in co-authoring a letter which became known as the firewall letter. The letter called on Alberta to take control over health care, opt out of the Canada Pension Plan and replace the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) with a provincial police force.

Canadian Alliance leadership

When Stockwell Day bowed to pressure from within the Canadian Alliance, and resigned from the leadership in the summer of 2001, Harper stood as a candidate in the subsequent leadership election. In the vote on March 20, 2002, Harper handily defeated Day on the first ballot to become leader of the Alliance. He became Leader of the Opposition after returning to Parliament in a by-election in April 2002.

His first 18 months as Opposition Leader were largely devoted toward consolidating the fractured elements of the Canadian Alliance, challenging the agenda of the Liberal government, and encouraging a union of the Canadian Alliance and the federal Progressive Conservatives. The aim of this union was to present only one right-of-centre national political party in the next federal election and prevent the "vote-splitting" of the past.

On January 12, 2004, Harper announced his resignation as Leader of the Opposition to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, the result of a contentious merger between the Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives led by Peter MacKay. He won the Conservative leadership election, with a first ballot majority against Belinda Stronach and Tony Clement on March 20, 2004.

2004 Canadian election

Harper led the Conservatives during the 2004 federal election, where it was widely believed he had a credible chance to defeat incumbent Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin. After a damaging release by the Auditor General regarding the Liberal misuse of the Sponsorship Program of the 1990s and what was cited as "voter anger in Ontario against Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty for breaking a promise not to raise taxes", polls showed the Conservatives in a dead heat with the Liberals.

Late in the campaign the Conservatives began to attract negative attention for controversial remarks made by a few MPs attacking homosexuality, official bilingualism and abortion. Additionally, the Liberal Party began airing controversial TV ads featuring smoggy cities and handguns pointing towards the viewer - the implication being that "Stephen Harper and the Conservatives" would make Canada more like the United States. Harper was also criticized for his stand on the American Invasion of Iraq, and the term "hidden agenda", once used commonly in the 2000 election to refer to Stockwell Day, began surfacing with increasing regularity with regards to health care. Stephen Harper in turn claimed that the Liberals were running an "American Style Campaign" and were trying to "wrap scandal in the Canadian Flag". The momentum began to swing against the party, although some polls still suggested it was neck and neck right up until election day.

The Conservative Party was successful in gaining seats in Ontario, where the Reform Party and Canadian Alliance had never been able to make significant gains, but Martin was re-elected with a minority government and 135 seats. The Conservatives finished in second-place with 99 seats. While the Conservatives had improved on the 72 seats they held entering the election, the party took only 29.6% of the popular vote, down from the 37.7% total that the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties had won in 2000. Harper maintained overwhelming support from party members because he was credited with bringing the old Progressive Conservative Party and Canadian Alliance together to fight a close election in very short time.

Harper as Leader of the Opposition

Harper has been called a "policy wonk" and an "ideologue". More recently, observers have suggested that he has sought to appear more moderate in an attempt to appeal to a wider range of the electorate. The Conservative Party's first policy convention was held from March 17-19, 2005 in Montreal. A moderate stance of the party was demonstrated, in accordance with what many viewed as Harper's goal. He received an 84% endorsement from delegates in the leadership review. Any opposition to abortion, bilingualism, and other once core Reform issues was dropped from the Conservative platform. The central issue of the Harper Conservatives has been the Liberal corruption related to the sponsorship scandal.

Under Harper the party remained commited to fighting same-sex marriage, a controversial position. Canadians are evenly divided on the issue, but the Conservative base is strongly opposed. Harper has been criticized by a group of 120 leading law professors for arguing that the government could over-ride the provincial court rulings without using the "notwithstanding clause", a provision of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms that allows provincial governments to "opt out" of provisions off the Charter. In contrast, Harper and constitutional lawyer/Conservative Justice Critic Vic Toews suggest that this clause does not have to be used to enshrine the heterosexual definition of marriage. Harper's position to provide same-sex couples with the same rights (other than the ability to marry) as married couples via "civil unions" was recently endorsed as constitutional by law firm Lang Michener. Former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was once a member in the Lang Michener firm.

Following the release of Jean Brault's damaging testimony at the Gomery Inquiry in April 2005, implicating the Liberals in extensive corruption and criminal activities, many opinion polls placed the Conservatives considerably ahead of Liberals in popular support. The Conservatives had earlier abstained from the vote on the 2005 budget, as it was clear Canadians were not interested in an election. With the collapse in Liberal support the party exerted significant pressure on Harper to bring down the government in hopes of winning a Conservative government.

In May Harper announced that the government had lost the "moral authority to govern" a vowed to bring it down. The sovereigntist Bloc Québécois agreed to follow suit. This effort failed following the decision of prominent Conservative MP Belinda Stronach to cross the floor to the Liberal Party. The May 19th second reading budget vote tied, rather than failing to pass by one vote. With the Speaker of the House voting to continue debate (following parliamentary precedent), the Liberal Party continued in power. Harper was heavily criticized, especially by those on the right, for the failure and the loss of Stronach.

Harper was also criticized for his unequivocal support of Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal. Grewal had produced tapes of conversations with Liberal insiders in which Grewal alleged he had been offered positions in exchange for his defection. When evidence came to light that Grewal's tapes had been edited, the decision to publicize the tape controversy was regarded by many as a poor strategy on Harper's part.

In early June 2005 the Conservative Party announced that Harper was embarking on a 'summer of fun', consisting of barbeques, photo ops, and similar events, with the aim of softening the popular image of Harper as cerebral, distant, and constantly outraged.

Preceded by:
Grant Hill
Leader of the Opposition in the Canadian House of Commons (2nd time)
Succeeded by:
in office
Preceded by:
John Reynolds
Leader of the Opposition in the Canadian House of Commons (1st time)
Succeeded by:
Grant Hill
Preceded by:
John Lynch-Staunton (interim)
Conservative Party Leaders
Succeeded by:
in office
Preceded by:
John Reynolds (interim)
Canadian Alliance Leaders
Succeeded by:
Party dissolves into
Conservative Party of Canada
Leader -
John Lynch-Staunton (interim)
Preceded by:
Preston Manning, Reform/CA
Members of Parliament from Calgary Southwest
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
Jim Hawkes, PC
Members of Parliament from Calgary West
Succeeded by:
Rob Anders, Reform/CA

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