Stephen Harper

This is a featured profile.

Stephen Harper is the current Prime Minister of Canada and party leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

early background

Harper was born and raised in Toronto 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. Harper became involved in politics in the mid-80s, but became 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.

political history

He was recommended to Preston Manning, founder of the Reform Party of Canada, 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 Reform Party's platform for the Canadian federal election, 1993.

In the Canadian federal election, 1988, Harper had run for a House of Commons seat in Calgary, but lost by a wide margin to the Progressive Conservative candidate. He fared better in the 1993 election, in which he won the Calgary_West FED for the Reform Party. Harper arrived in Parliament with a large group of new MPs. Harper quickly became one of the core members of the Reform Party parliamentary delegation.

Harper disagreed with party leader Preston Manning's approach that would give the Reform Party an increasingly populist, as opposed to conservative, bent. Harper also held that Reform could serve as a right-wing force along the model of the left-wing New Democratic Party, having a major effect on policy even if it won relatively few seats. A strategy later also employed by the Green Party of Canada.

Harper left his seat before the Canadian federal election, 1997 to serve as vice-president, then as president, of the National Citizens Coalition (NCC), a lobby group which has waged campaigns against public healthcare and immigration. With the NCC, Harper launched an ultimately unsuccessful legal battle against federal election finance reform. He left the post in 2002. An opportunity however had emerged:

firewall around Alberta

After its poor showing in the Canadian federal election, 2000, the Canadian Alliance, Reform's successor under Stockwell Day, 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 as Quebec had, and replace the RCMP with a provincial police force as Quebec and Ontario had."

Alliance versus Kyoto

Harper took leadership of the Canadian Alliance. At this time he renewed his political relationships with promoters of the Tar Sands in Alberta, engaging in propaganda efforts such as referring to the Kyoto Protocol as a "socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations". Harper revealed himself as a climate change denier through this and many other comments.

the new Conservatives

Despite their vast policy differences, Harper steered the Alliance towards merger with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, which was achieved in late 2003 thanks to PC leader Peter MacKay and the urging of Belinda Stronach, who challenged Harper for leadership of the new Conservative Party of Canada. David Orchard was a notable dissident, having received a written promise from MacKay not to merge with Harper.


A few months after Harper won the leadership, new Prime Minister of Canada Paul Martin called the Canadian federal election, 2004. Martin ran heavy attack ads emphasizing Harper's extreme policies from the past. Interestingly, anti-Kyoto rhetoric and climate change denier status was not yet as hot a political issue, and was omitted from these ads.

Harper however benefitted greatly from the Sponsorship Scandal, a resurgence by the Bloc Quebecois, a rise in New Democratic Party of Canada fortunes under Jack Layton, and the emergence of the Green Party of Canada, all of which tended to cut strongly into the Liberal's vote.

Harper won 99 seats and became Leader of the Opposition. The weakened Liberal minority of the 39th Parliament was under constant pressure right from its throne speech. Maneuvering to pass the Canadian federal budget, 2005 took months, during which Harper lost Belinda Stronach to the Liberals, ending the crisis and demoralizing his party badly. A weakened Paul Martin however was compelled to promise the next election for spring 2006. See Canadian federal confidence crisis, 2005 for more details.

In November 2005 Martin rejected a deal with the NDP to keep his government alive, and all parties united under Harper's temporary leadership to make the House fall. The Canadian federal election, 2006 was on.

2006 election

climate change

Almost immediately, the climate change issue was on the public agenda due to the Montreal Declaration in early December and the United States joining talks on successor to the Kyoto Accord. This was easily the highest visibility event in international diplomacy at the time. Harper strongly opposed Kyoto and several times repeated that a Conservative government would turn its back on the Kyoto accord and set its own "Made in Canada" targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Not one notable Canadian environmental advocate spoke in favour of this approach, probably because the unity behind one scheme, and an international GHG trade scheme, was central to achieving a post-Kyoto agreement including India, China, Brazil and others.

Claiming that the accord’s targets cannot be met either internationally or within Canada, Harper cited Canada's woeful record on climate change since the agreement was signed in 1997 by Jean Chretien. He was adamant:

“The Kyoto accord will not succeed at achieving its objectives and this government — the Canadian government — cannot achieve its objectives,” Mr. Harper said.

Kyoto is and was the only international effort on any aspect of climate change prevention. However, in early January 2006, non-signatory nations like Australia, China and the United States met in a meeting of coal-producing countries in Australia, forming at least one alternative global group for Harper to join. This Asia-Pacific Group was largely seen as a coal lobby and climate change denier front. Its solidarity was damaged somewhat when John Howard and George W. Bush and (last of all) Harper himself had to admit climate change was a scientific consensus.

oil industry ties

Harper's background in the petrochemical industry, and refusal to disclose contributors to his leadership campaigns, raised suspicions that this industry had a hand in both his rise and the policies he espouses.

The Conservative policy declaration, the first official policy document of the newly merged party, of March 2005 doesn’t mention climate change, greenhouse gas or CO2 emissions even once. It disavows Kyoto without a word about any alternatives. This is actually a much more extreme position than the Bush Administration which has actually bragged about its performance in reducing greenhouse gas, relative to Kyoto countries.

other controversies

Harper also took controversial stances in support of weapons in space, against same-sex marriage, and for a tax cut for parents to replace a daycare program - though he later promised to create some spaces.


However, Harper took centrist positions on ACOA, aboriginal rights and watched the centre shift in his direction on gun crime, with even NDP Leader Jack Layton favouring mandatory sentences, to the open surprise of Gilles Duceppe in a TV debate.

Those trying to compare 2006 Canadian federal party platforms noted a marked difference from 2004, with Harper seeking to placate very specific groups seen as weak and sympathetically regarded by the public, while retaining the overall pro-business pro-tax-cut stance of his party. Sometimes called the Red Tory path.

Political Compass Rating

Harper makes a guest appearance on http://www.politicalcompass.org/analysis2

breakthrough in Quebec

In January polls showed that Harper's Conservatives had surpassed the Liberal Party of Canada in Quebec. A surprise endorsement from Mario Dumont of the ADQ, a scandal surrounding Ralph Goodale, and the extremely clumsy handling of the release of some Liberal attack ads, 2006 prompting condemnations from some LPC candidates, assisted Harper. As of 2006-01-15, polls showed the momentum very clearly with Harper, and some polls showed Liberal votes bleeding away to the New Democratic Party of Canada especially in Ontario and even the Green Party of Canada especially in BC. Harper was positioned for a federal minority government though a federal majority government seemed impossible at the time.

Harper was sworn into office in January 2006 and made some controversial choices for cabinet Minister, including David Emerson (a formal liberal cabinet Minister under Paul Martin) and appointed a senator to cabinet for the public works portfolio.


By the end of 2006, Harper had been forced into a major retreat on climate issues, appointing John Baird as his new Minister of the Environment. The NDP was angling for an end to dirty subsidy to the oilcos particularly involved in the Tar Sands. California under its governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had passed laws forbidding high-GHG fuels for any purpose including power generation. Harper invited him to Ottawa but was clearly in damage control mode on this and related issues. Gary Lund, Minister of Natural Resources, announced a revived program to insulate homes, but was thin on green building innovations. Baird and Harper were confining most public comments to the fact that GHG had risen under Paul Martin's government, neglecting to mention that almost all of the rise was due to Tar Sands emissions, from ridings entirely represented by Harper and his closest Conservative allies.