Stephen Harper

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper

In office:

April 30, 1959, at Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Political party:
Conservative Party (2003–present)

Other political affiliations:
Liberal Party (Before 1985)
Progressive Conservative Party (1985–1987)
Reform Party (1987–1997)
Canadian Alliance (2002–2003)

Alma mater:
University of Calgary

Christian and Missionary Alliance

Harper is a Canadian politician who is the 22nd and current Prime Minister of Canada and the Leader of the Conservative Party. Harper became prime minister in 2006, forming a minority government after the 2006 election. He is the first prime minister to come from the newly reconstituted Conservative Party, which formed after a merger of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance.

In 2003, he reached an agreement with Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay for the merger of their two parties to form the Conservative Party of Canada. He was elected as the party’s first non-interim leader in March 2004.

Harper’s Conservative Party won a stronger minority in the October 2008 federal election, showing a small increase in the percentage of the popular vote and increased representation in the Canadian House of Commons, with 143 of 308 seats. The 40th Canadian Parliament was dissolved in March 2011, after his government failed a no-confidence vote on the issue of the Cabinet being in contempt of parliament.

In the May 2011 federal election, Harper’s Conservative Party won a majority government, the first since the 2000 federal election. His party won 166 seats, an increase of 23 seats from the October 2008 election.

Harper is the first prime minister since Joe Clark without a law degree.  He has a master’s degree in economics, which he completed in 1993.

He was then recommended by the University of Calgary’s economist Bob Mansell to Preston Manning, the founder and leader of the Reform Party of Canada. Manning invited him to participate in the party, and Harper gave a speech at Reform’s 1987 founding convention in Winnipeg. He became the Reform Party’s Chief Policy Officer, and he played a major role in drafting the 1988 election platform. He is credited with creating Reform’s campaign slogan,

Harper’s relationship with Manning became strained in 1992, due to conflicting strategies over the Charlottetown Accord. Harper opposed the Accord on principle for ideological reasons, while Manning was initially more open to compromise. Harper also criticized Manning’s decision to hire Rick Anderson as an adviser, believing that Anderson was not sufficiently committed to the Reform Party’s principles. He resigned as policy chief  in October 1992.

So fractious was his relationship with Manning that he pointedly declined to express any opinion on Manning’s leadership during a 1996 interview.

Harper stood for office again in the 1993 federal election, and defeated Jim Hawkes amid a significant Reform breakthrough in Western Canada.

In 1994, he opposed plans by federal Justice Minister Allan Rock to introduce spousal benefits for same-sex couples. Citing the recent failure of a similar initiative in Ontario, he was quoted as saying,

“What I hope they learn is not to get into it. There are more important social and economic issues, not to mention the unity question.”

He actually opposed both same-sex marriage and mandated benefits for same-sex couples, but argued that political parties should refrain from taking official positions on these and other “issues of conscience”.

Harper was the only Reform MP to support the creation of the Canadian Firearms Registry at second reading in 1995, although he later voted against it at third reading stage.

In 1997, Harper delivered a controversial speech on Canadian identity to the Council for National Policy, a conservative American think tank. He made comments such as:

“if you’re like all Americans, you know almost nothing except for your own country. Which makes you probably knowledgeable about one more country than most Canadians”


“the NDP (New Democratic Party) is kind of proof that the Devil lives and interferes in the affairs of men.”

Harper argued that the speech was intended as humour, and not as serious analysis.

After the Canadian Alliance’s poor showing in the 2000 election, Harper joined with other Western conservatives in co-authoring a document called the “Alberta Agenda“. The letter called on Alberta to reform publicly funded health care, replace the Canada Pension Plan with a provincial plan and replace the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with a provincial police force. It became known as the “firewall letter“, because it called on the provincial government to “build firewalls around Alberta” in order to stop the federal government from redistributing its wealth to less affluent regions.  Alberta Premier Ralph Klein agreed with some of the letter’s recommendations, but distanced himself from the “firewall” comments.

In the 2001 Alberta provincial election, Harper led the NCC in a “Vote Anything but Liberal” campaign.

Stockwell Day called a new Canadian Alliance leadership race for 2002, and soon declared himself a candidate. Harper emerged as Day’s main rival, and declared his own candidacy on December 3, 2001.

During the campaign, Harper reprised his earlier warnings against an alliance with Quebec nationalists.  He argued that “the French language is not imperilled in Quebec”, and opposed “special status” for the province in the Canadian Constitution accordingly.  He also endorsed greater provincial autonomy on Medicare.  On social issues, Harper argued for “parental rights” to use corporal punishment against their children and supported raising the age of sexual consent.

The tone of the leadership contest turned hostile in February 2002. Harper described Day’s governance of the party as “amateurish”,  while his campaign team argued that Day was attempting to win re-election by building a narrow support base among different groups in the religious right.   The Day campaign accused Harper of  “attacking ethnic and religious minorities”.  In early March, the two candidates had an especially fractious debate on CBC Newsworld.   The leadership vote was held on March 20, 2002. Harper was elected on the first ballot with 55% support, against 37% for Day.

Harper was elected the first leader of the Conservative Party, with a first ballot majority against Belinda Stronach and Tony Clement on March 20, 2004.  Harper’s victory included strong showings in Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada.

Harper led the Conservatives into the 2004 federal election. Initially, new Prime Minister Paul Martin held a large lead in polls.  The Liberals attempted to counter this with an early election call, as this would give the Conservatives less time to consolidate their merger.   Many credited Harper with bringing the Progressive Conservative Party and Canadian Alliance together in a short time to fight a close election.

Two months after the federal election, Stephen Harper privately met with Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe and New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton in a Montreal hotel.  On September 9, 2004, the three signed a letter addressed to then-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, stating,

“We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority.”

On the same day the letter was written, the three party leaders held a joint press conference at which they expressed their intent to co-operate on changing parliamentary rules, and to request that the Governor General consult with them before deciding to call an election.  At the news conference, Harper said,

“It is the Parliament that’s supposed to run the country, not just the largest party and the single leader of that party. That’s a criticism I’ve had and that we’ve had and that most Canadians have had for a long, long time now so this is an opportunity to start to change that.”

On November 24, 2005, Harper introduced a motion of non-confidence on the Liberal government.  The no-confidence motion was passed by a vote of 171–133. It was the first time that a Canadian government had been toppled by a straight motion of non-confidence proposed by the opposition. As a result, Parliament was dissolved and a general election was scheduled for January 23, 2006.

2006 federal election:

The election gave Harper’s Conservatives the largest number of seats in the House, although not enough for a majority government, and shortly after midnight on January 24, Martin conceded defeat. Later that day, Martin informed Governor General Michaëlle Jean that he would resign as prime minister, and at 6:45 p.m. Jean asked Harper to form a government.

Harper was sworn in as Canada’s 22nd prime minister on February 6, 2006.

On October 14, 2008, the Conservative Party won the federal election and increased its number of seats in Parliament.

On December 30, 2009, Harper announced that he would request the governor general prorogue Parliament, effective immediately, during the 2010 Winter Olympics and lasting until March 3, 2010. Harper stated that this was necessary for Canada’s economic plan. Jean would grant the request. In an interview with CBC News, Prince Edward Island Liberal member of Parliament Wayne Easter accused the Prime Minister of “shutting democracy down”. Tom Flanagan, Harper’s University of Calgary mentor and former Chief of Staff, also questioned Harper’s reasoning for prorogation, stating that “I think the government’s talking points haven’t been entirely credible” and that the government’s explanation of proroguing was “skirting the real issue—which is the harm the opposition parties are trying to do to the Canadian Forces” regarding the Canadian Afghan detainee issue.  Small demonstrations took place on January 23 in 64 Canadian cities and towns, and five cities in other countries.

The Canadian Afghan detainee issue concerns whether or not the Government of Canada and/or the Canadian Forces (CF) had knowledge about alleged abusive treatment of detainees in Afghanistan. The alleged abuse occurred after Afghans were detained by Canadian Forces, and subsequently transferred to the Afghan National Army (ANA) or the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) during the War in Afghanistan. The issue has sparked heated debate since Article 12 of the Third Geneva Convention (of which Canada is a signatory) states that “the Detaining Power [Canada] is responsible for the treatment given [to prisoners of war]“. If the allegations of torture are true it would mean Canada is guilty of war crimes.]

A poll done by Angus Reid during January 5 and 6, found that 38 per cent of Canadians believed that Harper used the  December 30, 2009 prorogation to curtail the Canadian Afghan detainee issue.

Harper’s Cabinet was defeated in a no-confidence vote on March 25, 2011, after being found in contempt of Parliament, thus triggering a general election.  The no-confidence motion was carried with a vote of 156 in favor of the motion, and 145 against.

On May 2, 2011, Harper led the Conservatives to their third consecutive election victory.  Aside from ending five years of minority governments, this election was notable for a number of firsts: bringing the New Democratic Party to official opposition status, the relegation of the Liberals to third place, the election of Canada’s first Green Party Member of Parliament, and the decline of the Bloc Québécois (from 47 to 4 seats).

Harper has insisted on his right to choose who asks questions at press conferences, which has caused the national media to lodge complaints.  In 2007,  Harper was awarded the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) “Code of Silence Award” for his “white-knuckled death grip on public information”. “If journalists can’t get basic information from the federal government, Canadians can’t hold the government accountable. The prime minister’s office has repeatedly demonstrated contempt for the public’s right to know,” [CAJ President] Welch said. “Harper pledged to run a government that was open, transparent and accountable, but his track record to-date has been abysmal.  Some have alleged that the prime minister’s office also “often informs the media about Harper’s trips at such short notice that it’s impossible for Ottawa journalists to attend the events”.  Harper’s director of communications has denied this, saying that “this prime minister has been more accessible, gives greater media scrums and provides deeper content than any prime minister has in the last 10 to 12 years”. Some suggest that the Conservatives’ then recent electoral success could be credited to their control of the campaign message, a practice that they continued when they became the government.

The CAJ again criticized Harper’s control over the media in an open letter in June 2010. The CAJ wrote “Politicians should not get to decide what information is released. This information belongs to Canadians, the taxpayers who paid for its production. Its release should be based on public interest, not political expediency. This breeds contempt and suspicion of government. How can people know the maternal-health initiative has been well thought out.”

On a personal note:

Harper married Laureen Teskey on December 11, 1993.  The Harpers have two children: Benjamin and Rachel. Harper is the third prime minister, after Pierre Trudeau and John Turner, to send his children to Rockcliffe Park Public School, in Ottawa.

According to party literature, he is learning Spanish.

Harper taped a cameo appearance in an episode of the television show Corner Gas which aired March 12, 2007. In October 2009, he joined Yo-Yo Ma on stage in a National Arts Centre gala and performed “With a Little Help from My Friends”. He was also accompanied by Herringbone, an Ottawa band with whom he regularly practises.  He received a standing ovation after providing the piano accompaniment and lead vocals for the song.

In October 2010, Harper taped a cameo appearance in an episode of the television show Murdoch Mysteries, which aired July 20, 2011, during the show’s fourth season.

He is the first prime minister to employ a personal stylist, Michelle Muntean, whose duties range from co-ordinating his clothing to preparing his hair and makeup for speeches and television appearances. While formerly on public payroll, she has been paid for by the Conservative Party since “some time [in] 2007″.

The Harper family has two cats, Stanley and Gypsy.

In 2014, the National Council of Canadian Muslims decided to sue Harper after he failed to apologize for claiming the group had links to terrorists.


Speech to the Council for National Policy (1997)

“In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, I don’t feel particularly bad for many of these people.”  – Speaking in Montréal, 1997. Sourced from Rebel Youth magazine, Fall-Winter Edition 2006

Quotes about Harper
“Harper is a nerd who aspires to bullydom. He keeps his caucus on a short leash. He speaks to the public via ads. The press and the people – the ingrates! – cannot be trusted to stay on message.”  – Laura Penny, More Money Than Brains: Why Schools Suck, College is Crap, and Idiots Think They’re Right , p. 161


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