Harper, Stephen J.
Stephen J. Harper
Prime minister of Canada
Born Stephen Joseph Harper, April 30, 1959, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; son of Joseph and Margaret (Johnston) Harper; married Laureen Teskey, December 11, 1993; children: Ben, Rachel. Education: Attended University of Toronto; University of Calgary, B.A., 1985, M.A., 1991.
Addresses: Office—Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington St., Ottawa K1A 0A2, Canada.
Computer programmer for oil and gas companies in Edmonton, Alberta, c. 1978–80, and in Calgary, Alberta; legislative assistant to member of Canadian House of Commons, 1985–86; instructor in economics, University of Calgary, 1986–88; Reform Party of Canada, founding member, 1987, and chief policy officer after 1987, became senior policy advisor and served until 1992; elected to Canadian House of Commons from the Calgary West district, 1993 (resigned, January 1997); National Citizens Coalition (NCC), vice president, 1997–98, and president, 1998–2002; elected leader of the Canadian Alliance, March 2002, and to Canadian House of Commons, May 2002, from the Calgary Southwest district; negotiated merger between the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party to form the Conservative Party (CP) of Canada; elected CP leader, January 2004; became prime minister with a CP plurality in federal legislative elections, January 2006.
Stephen J. Harper capped a two-decade career in Canadian politics with his ascendancy to the office of prime minister in 2006. A key figure in the shakeup of center-right politics in Canada that began in the late 1980s, Harper leads Canada's Conservative Party, and its victory in 2006 federal elections was considered a rare shift to the right for this nation of 33 million. Negative campaign ads run by supporters of the left attempted to portray Harper as a Canadian version of U.S. President George W. Bush, but seemed to have backfired and instead given Harper and his party the slim margin of votes needed to form a new government. "Canadians can disagree, but it takes a lot to get Canadians to intensely hate something or hate somebody," a Seattle Times report quoted him as saying about the divisive campaign rhetoric. "And it usually involves hockey."
A Toronto native, Harper was born in 1959 and graduated first in his class from his high school in Etobicoke, a part of the Toronto metropolitan area. He entered the University of Toronto, but at the age of 19 headed west to take a job as a computer pro-grammer in the oil and gas industry in Edmonton, Alberta. Two years later, he moved on to Calgary for a similar job, and also enrolled at the University of Calgary, where he earned an undergraduate degree in economics in 1985 and a master's degree six years later.
Harper became active in Progressive Conservative (PC) Party politics during his time in Calgary, and was a hired as a legislative assistant to one of Calgary's representatives in the Canadian House of Commons following his graduation in 1985. Leaving the PC Party along with several other members, he became one of founders of the Reform Party (RP) of Canada in 1987, and served as its first chief policy officer. Cobbled together out of pro-business advocates and Canadian Plains province leaders uneasy with the longstanding traditional nexus of power that ruled the country from Ontario and Quebec's urban centers, the Reform Party was populist, conservative, and determined to assert Plains-province interests on the national political stage. Harper reportedly coined the RP's first slogan, "The West Wants In!"
Harper ran for a seat in the Canadian House of Commons in 1988, but lost to the PC incumbent from the Calgary West district, who was also his former boss when he worked as the legislative assistant. He eventually fell out with RP leader Preston Manning over the party's direction regarding a 1992 referendum on constitutional amendments that would have rearranged the division of powers between Canada's federal and provincial governments. He resigned as the RP's chief policy advisor in October of 1992, but a year later won the Calgary West seat in Ottawa as one of 52 newly elected RP legislators in a stunning electoral victory for the party that year. Emerging as one of the most quotable new legislators of the pack, he continued to publicly assert his opinions over RP strategy and direction, which erupted into more skirmishes with the party leadership. In January of 1997, he resigned his seat in the House of Commons, and took an executive post with the National Citizens Coalition (NCC), a conservative advocacy group.
Harper became active in the Canadian Alliance, a reconstituted version of the RP, and returned to politics with a bid to become party leader during a particularly contentious battle with his main rival, Stockwell Day. He won that March of 2002 contest, and two months later returned to the House of Commons in a by-election to fill Manning's former seat representing Calgary Southwest. When he won that contest, he became the official Leader of the Opposition in parliament. A year later, he was a key figure in the union of the Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservative Party to form the new Conservative Party (CP) of Canada.
In January of 2004, Harper's fellow CP members elected him party leader, but they failed to take the lead in federal elections later that year. Their main rival was the Liberal Party, and in 2005 the Liberal government was rocked by a corruption scandal that ruined public confidence in the party and the government of Prime Minister Paul Martin, Harper's Liberal Party counterpart. In November of 2005 Harper challenged the Martin government with a motion of no confidence he introduced in the House of Commons, which passed and resulted in the dissolution of parliament until new federal elections could be held the following January.
Harper led his party to victory in the 2006 federal elections on January 23, though the Conservative Party slate won a plurality, or largest share, but not a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons. Harper formed a minority government, and was sworn into office on February 6, 2006, at the age of 46, which made him one of the youngest prime ministers in Canadian history. His first year in office was judged a success for the achievement of many of his campaign pledges, including passage of the Federal Accountability Act, a series of clean-government reforms that spelled out new rules for political lobbying, campaign contributions, and political patronage jobs. He also stood firm against the United States and Bush White House over Arctic rights, but alarmed some Canadians—in a country where gun control is tightly regulated—with his plan to arm border guards.
Harper is married to Laureen Teskey Harper, whose outgoing personality is often described as the exact opposite to her husband's more reserved, press-shy nature. They have two children, whom Harper habitually delivered to school each morning before he became prime minister. He rarely gives interviews, and has had a relationship with the Ottawa press corps that has been cool at best and outright hostile in its worst moments. Making the occasional joke on the record seems to have gotten easier for him, however: In June of 2006, Canadian authorities arrested scores of young men who were charged with plotting to storm federal buildings and media outlets in Ottawa and reportedly behead Harper, possibly on live television. Speaking of the slim 124-member CP block in the House of Commons, Harper told reporters, "I can live with these threats," London's Independent quoted him as saying, "as long as they're not from my caucus."
Economist, January 28, 2006, p. 35.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Canada), January 14, 2006, p. A1.
Independent (London, England), June 8, 2006, p. 22.
New York Times, January 16, 2006.
Seattle Times, January 24, 2006, p. A1.
Time Canada, February 6, 2006, p. 20. December 25, 2006, p. 42.