Harper, Stephen


Harper, Stephen
▪ 2007

      In January 2006 the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) won more than 36% of the vote in the country's general election, finishing with 125 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, and on February 6 Stephen Harper was sworn in as prime minister of Canada. As the head of a minority government, Harper faced enormous challenges, but he quickly made his mark with an agenda based on four “pillars”: accountability, security, environmental protection, and strong economic management. His government proposed the cornerstone Federal Accountability Act and Action Plan, as well as a budget that emphasized lower taxes and debt reduction, and he narrowly won parliamentary support for a two-year extension for Canadian forces in Afghanistan. In November, however, Harper surprised even his supporters when he formally introduced a motion “that this house [Parliament] recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.” The motion, which was designed to preempt a more extreme one planned by the separatist Bloc Québécois, showed that Harper, a committed federalist, was also flexible enough to seek a workable compromise on one of Canada's most contentious issues.

      Stephen Joseph Harper was born on April 30, 1959, in Toronto, but he moved to Calgary, Alta. He later worked in the Alberta oil industry, but after studying economics at the University of Calgary (B.S., 1985; M.S., 1991), he directed his career toward politics and public-policy analysis. He was elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1993 as a member of the Reform Party, which had been founded in the 1980s to express both a distinctive role for the western provinces in the Canadian federation and conservative views on social policy. He chose not to seek reelection in 1997, however, after a disagreement with Reform leader Preston Manning. After leaving office, Harper led the National Citizens Coalition, which advocated free enterprise and lower taxes and was critical of the federal response to Quebec separatism.

      In 2002 Harper was elected leader of the Canadian Alliance (the successor to the Reform Party), defeating its sitting leader, Stockwell Day, and he returned to Parliament later that year as leader of the opposition. The next year Harper engineered the merger of the Canadian Alliance with the centre-right Progressive Conservative Party to form the CPC. He was elected leader of the new party in March 2004, and in the general election three months later, the Conservatives won 99 seats in the House of Commons, forcing the ruling Liberal Party to head a minority government. As opposition leader, Harper attempted to define a moderate stance for the Conservatives, advocating tax relief, a balanced budget, and government transparency. He also championed publicly funded health care, advocated strengthening the Canadian military, and endorsed conservative social policies.

Editor

▪ 2005

      Stephen Harper—spokesman for the Conservative Party (CP), the combined opposition to the Liberal government of Prime Minister Paul Martin—confirmed his position as an important new figure on the Canadian political scene following the general election on June 28, 2004. Harper's party won 99 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons. As a result, the Liberals were forced to head a minority government.

      Harper's task was not an easy one. His home base was the Reform Party, later called the Canadian Alliance, a group founded to express a distinctive role for the Western provinces in the Canadian federation. Although the party put forward ideas of democratic reform, such as an elected rather than an appointed Senate, its views on social issues were often to the right of mainstream Canadian opinion. In addition, Harper's party was partnered on the right with the historic Progressive Conservative Party (PCP), with which it merged in late 2003 to form the CP. The PCP, with countrywide roots, contained many shades of opinion, from the liberal views of the “Red Tories” to fiscal conservatives advocating a more restricted role for government. Harper was elected leader of the new grouping in March 2004, only three months before voters went to the polls in the general election.

      Harper attempted to define a moderate stance for the new party. He advocated that tax relief, a balanced budget, and transparency should be the hallmarks of a responsible Canadian government. He believed that publicly funded health care should be maintained and improved, the federal government should help to make higher education more accessible, and cities should be assisted in the expensive task of providing streets and public services.

      Harper advocated the strengthening of the Canadian military from its present level of 65,000 to 80,000. He felt that participation in peacekeeping or peace-enforcing roles should be determined by the national interest and governed by careful rules of engagement and that it was important that Canada build up combat-trained forces for a variety of assignments. On the vital question of relations with the United States, Harper's party promised support for farmers and lumbermen in trade disputes. On global issues he believed that Canada should stand “shoulder to shoulder” with its powerful neighbour when interests coincided but that its ally should be met “eyeball to eyeball” when they did not.

      Stephen Joseph Harper was born on April 30, 1959, in Toronto but moved at an early age to Calgary, Alta. After graduating from the University of Calgary (B.A., 1985; M.A., 1991), he directed his career toward politics and public-policy analysis. Harper was a member of Parliament in the early 1990s for the Reform Party and later headed a public advocacy group. In 2002 he defeated Stockwell Day for leadership of the Canadian Alliance.

David M.L. Farr

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▪ prime minister of Canada
in full  Stephen Joseph Harper 
born April 30, 1959, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
 
 Canadian politician, prime minister of Canada from 2006.

      Harper was born in eastern Canada, where he spent his childhood. He attended the University of Calgary, where he received both a bachelor's degree (1985) and a master's degree (1991) in economics. Upon graduation he directed his career toward politics and public policy analysis. Harper was elected to represent the Calgary West riding in the Canadian House of Commons in 1993 as a member of the Reform Party, which had been founded in the 1980s to express both a distinctive role for the western provinces in the Canadian federation and conservative views on social policy. However, he chose not to seek reelection in 1997 after a disagreement with Reform leader Preston Manning. After leaving office, Harper led the National Citizens Coalition, which advocated free enterprise and lower taxes and was critical of the federal response to Quebec separatism.

      In 2002 Harper was elected leader of the Canadian Alliance (the successor to the Reform Party), defeating its sitting leader Stockwell Day, and returned to Parliament later that year, as the MP for the Calgary Southwest riding and as leader of the opposition. In 2003 Harper engineered the merger of the Canadian Alliance with the centre-right Progressive Conservative Party (Progressive Conservative Party of Canada) to form the Conservative Party of Canada. In 2004 Harper was elected leader of the new party and attempted to define a moderate stance for the Conservatives, advocating tax relief, a balanced budget, and government transparency. He also endorsed conservative social policies that were at odds with many Canadians' beliefs. In the election of 2004 the Conservatives won 99 seats in the House of Commons, and Harper continued as leader of the opposition.

 In January 2006 the Conservatives won more than 36 percent of the national vote and captured 124 seats in the House of Commons, and Harper became prime minister of Canada, leading a minority government. He put forward an agenda based on four “pillars”: accountability, security, environmental protection, and strong economic management. His government emphasized lower taxes and debt reduction, and he narrowly won parliamentary support for an extension for the Canadian forces that had been deployed to Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks against the United States in 2001. In November 2006 Harper surprised even his supporters when he formally introduced a motion in the House of Commons to “recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.” This largely symbolic motion, which passed, was designed to preempt a more extreme one planned by the separatist Bloc Québécois.

      Despite Harper's earlier advocacy for environmental protection, in 2007 his administration officially distanced itself from the emissions targets outlined in the Kyoto Protocol, categorizing them as unattainable. The administration proposed the Clean Air Act, which set more ambiguous guidelines and a more generous time line for meeting emissions goals, as an alternative for dealing with climate change. The act drew harsh criticism from environmental groups and from the Liberal opposition.

      Later that year, Harper ushered in a series of programs aimed at securing Canada's sovereignty over Arctic waters in an effort to ensure access to potential petroleum resources in the seabed. In 2008, under pressure resulting from rising casualties in Afghanistan, he introduced a successful motion setting a firm withdrawal date for Canadian troops. That year Harper also issued a formal apology for the treatment of indigenous peoples in residential schools. These schools, which opened in the 1870s, were designed to efface the cultural identity of indigenous children and forcibly assimilate them into broader Canadian society.

      Having won the favour of many in Quebec by pushing the recognition of the Québécois as a nation, Harper hoped to make enough electoral gains in that province to establish a Conservative parliamentary majority, and he called a federal election for Oct. 14, 2008. Partly in response to worsening economic conditions in Canada precipitated by the crisis in the U.S. economy, voters in Quebec continued their support of the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party; nationwide, however, the Conservatives gained 19 seats to reach a total of 143. Harper had gambled by calling an early election, and, while his party was still short of a majority, he remained in power.

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Universalium. 2010.

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