When thinking of Canada, I strongly doubt that the first thing to pop into most people’s heads would be “bastion of political conservatism”. Yet in this liberal country, prime minister Stephen Harper has carved out an impressive reputation as one of the world’s most successful centre-right leaders.
Through two minority Tory governments (2006 and 2008), and since May 2011 at the head of a majority government, Harper has balanced strong leadership with a confident domestic and foreign policy agenda. Canada may be a middle power, but our prime minister will accept nothing less than a seat at the top table.
This has been aided in large part by well-received political and economic policies. Harper’s unwavering stance in support of Israel, passionate defence of democracy and fierce opposition to global terrorism has won international praise. He has no fear of gradually reducing the size of government and the bureaucracy, cutting bloated social programmes and bringing down income tax rates. Meanwhile, the Canadian economy is in relatively good shape as compared to the US and Europe.
So, what is Harper’s secret of conservative success in a liberal society? What lessons can he teach David Cameron, the US Republicans and other centre-right Western leaders about maintaining their convictions and still winning elections?
Maybe I can shed some light. I’ve known Harper since 1996. Although we weren’t close friends, we met every so often and used to keep in fairly regular contact. We discussed everything from Canadian politics to, believe it or not, traditional Christmas music. I also worked in the Prime Minister’s Office as one of his speechwriters during the first minority government.
Harper is a highly intelligent, well-read, and astute political thinker. He’s a great admirer of past conservative leaders like Ronald Reagan, Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. He holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of Calgary, and is always engaged when it comes to Canada’s financial health and future success. Harper understands campaigning, having first won a federal seat in 1993, and enjoys the subtle art of strategic warfare during an election. He’s also a conviction politician: doing what he feels is right, no matter the personal cost in terms of popular opinion and support.