“I believe very strongly that in this world you have to have values and you have to stand up for your interests and if you don’t do those things you’re not going to get anywhere.”
The Right Honourable Stephen J. Harper of Bragg Creek is an economist, politician and author who served as Canada’s 22nd prime minister from 2006 to 2015. He transformed the country’s political landscape by uniting the previously divided right into the modern Conservative Party of Canada. He went on to win three consecutive national elections, leading Canada through a decade of complex geopolitical, economic and security challenges. His leadership had a profound impact on the nation and Alberta.
Stephen Joseph Harper was born April 30, 1959, in Leaside, Ontario, to Joseph Harris and Margaret Frances (Johnston) Harper. Stephen is the eldest of three boys. He was the academic gold medallist in Richview Collegiate Institute’s graduating class of 1978. After a brief enrolment in the University of Toronto, he headed west to work with Imperial Oil, first in Edmonton, then Calgary.
Stephen later enrolled at the University of Calgary, where he earned bachelor’s (1985) and master’s degrees (1991) in economics. As he began university, Stephen also became active in Progressive Conservative (PC) party politics and became a legislative assistant to Jim Hawkes, the PC Member of Parliament (MP) for Calgary West. He spent a year working for Hawkes in Ottawa, but became disillusioned with the PCs. Stephen left the party in 1987 to become a founder of the Reform Party of Canada, a populist conservative political movement. He served as the party’s first chief policy officer. With his eloquence and grasp of issues, he drafted the party’s platform and statement of principles.
In 1991, Stephen met Laureen Teskey at a Reform Party convention in Saskatoon. Born in Turner Valley, her outgoing personality was often described as the opposite to Stephen’s more reserved nature, but the two were a match. They married in 1993 and raised a family with son Benjamin arriving first, followed by daughter Rachel.
In October 1993, Stephen defeated his former boss Hawkes, winning the Calgary West seat. Stephen was one of 52 newly elected Reform legislators for the party that year. But he chose not to seek re-election in 1997. Instead, he joined the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) as vice-president and, a year later, became president.
During his time with the NCC, the Reform Party became the Official Opposition in Ottawa. It rebranded itself as the Canadian Alliance, but after it failed to make substantive gains in the 2000 election and entered into a period of internal turmoil, supporters encouraged Stephen to return to politics and run for leader of the party. In 2002, he was elected leader on the first ballot and became leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. In a by-election two months later, he returned to Parliament as the MP for Calgary Southwest.
The next year, Stephen led the merger of the Canadian Alliance with the centre-right Progressive Conservative Party to form the modern Conservative Party of Canada. A year later, he was elected leader of the new party. In the 2006 election, Stephen led the Conservative Party to victory, becoming the Prime Minister of Canada.
He was sworn into office at the age of 46, making him one of the youngest prime ministers in Canadian history and became the first westerner to be elected prime minister since 1979. Stephen went on to lead three consecutive governments from 2006 to 2015, becoming Canada’s longest-serving Conservative prime minister since Sir John A. Macdonald. Ask Conservatives about Stephen’s most significant achievement and they’ll likely agree: he united all elements of Canadian conservatism into a single party.
Beyond party politics, Stephen’s legacy is extensive. Conservatives cheered his domestic policies that championed the development of Alberta’s oil sands, abolished the long gun registry and took a tough-on-crime approach. His government reduced the Goods and Services Tax (GST) from seven to five per cent. It also lowered Canada’s corporate and small-business tax rates, introduced the Tax-Free Savings Account, and made record investments in health care, education and infrastructure, while leaving the federal government with a balanced budget.
On social files, Stephen advanced Canada’s relationship with several communities. In 2006, he officially apologized to Chinese Canadians for the nation’s treatment of Chinese immigrants in imposing the Head Tax. He also introduced a motion in the House of Commons to recognize that the Québecois form a nation within a united Canada. In 2007, Stephen announced plans to establish a veterans’ bill of rights and an independent ombudsman. A year later, his government succeeded in raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16. In 2008, he delivered an apology to Indigenous Peoples for the federal government’s role in residential schools. His government also established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Similarly, Stephen established a bold legacy in foreign affairs. Thanks to his statesmanship and sober approach to international crises, along with his openness to international partnerships, he ensured Canada remained influential on the world stage. Stephen and his cabinet won respect from the international community for their sage stewardship of the economy and actions to steer Canada through the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. Always a strong advocate for free trade and open markets, his government expanded Canada’s free trade network from five to 51 countries, including agreements with the European Union and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Stephen oversaw Canada’s involvement in a series of complex conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. His uncompromising defence of Israel was a centrepiece of his foreign policy. And he was among the most vocal opponents of Russia’s 2014 invasion of eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. As the elder statesman of the G8, he led the international organization in expelling Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
One of Stephen’s greatest contributions to the international community was championing the health of the world’s most vulnerable citizens. When he chaired the G8 leaders’ summit at Muskoka, Ontario, in 2010, he ensured that child and maternal health were at the top of the agenda. The Muskoka Initiative committed member-nations to spend billions to help reduce the number of mothers and children who die from preventable causes each year. Four years later, he maintained the momentum by hosting the international summit Saving Every Woman Every Child: Within Arm’s Reach in Toronto.
Following his retirement from politics in 2016, Stephen returned to Alberta full time to begin the next chapter of his life. He launched his Calgary-based consultancy firm Harper & Associates, a global strategic business advisory firm, and co-founded the investment fund Vision-One Management. He also chairs the International Democrat Union, the Friends of Israel Initiative and the Policy Exchange’s Indo-Pacific Commission. Stephen served on then Premier Jason Kenney’s Economic Recovery Council, as well as on the boards of directors for Colliers International and Conservative Fund. He advises many business and investment organizations and is a high-profile public speaker around the world.
Multiple national and international recognitions have celebrated Stephen’s contributions. Just a few include: B’nai B’rith International’s Presidential Gold Medallion (2008), Appeal of Conscience Foundation’s World Statesman of the Year (2012), Ukraine’s Order of Liberty (2016), and Tel Aviv University’s honorary Doctor of Philosophy (2014). Stephen has also received the Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee Medal, the Alberta Centennial Medal, the Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee Medal (Alberta). He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2020.
Since his initial work during the Franklin explorations (2008-2014), Stephen continues to be actively engaged with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and its mandate to “make Canada better known to Canadians and to the world.” In 2015, he received an Honorary Fellowship from the society and its Erebus Medal for his contribution toward the discovery of HMS Erebus. In 2020, he wrote a major feature for the society’s magazine Canadian Geographic about the evolution of Canada’s internal boundaries.
Stephen is a member of the Society for International Hockey Research. His 2013 non-fiction book – A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs and the Rise of Professional Hockey – documents the birth of professional hockey at the turn of the 20th century. Proceeds from the book’s sales supported Canadian Forces Personnel and Family Support Services. Published in 2018, Stephen’s second book – Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption – draws on his decade as a G8 leader to help leaders in business and government understand, adapt and thrive.
Although he is no longer directly involved in Canadian politics, Stephen’s opinions and policies continue to influence politics across the country.