Stephen Harper Biography

Prime Minister (1959–)
Canadian Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper served as prime minister of Canada from 2006 to 2015.


Born in Toronto in 1959, Stephen Harper earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in economics at the University of Calgary. Following multiple terms in the House of Commons, he became prime minister of Canada in 2006. Harper was a proponent of lower taxes and an enlarged military, his standing strengthened when his Conservative Party earned a majority in the 2011 federal election. In 2015 Harper tenure as prime minister came to an end when he was defeated by Liberal candidate Justin Trudeau.

Early Life

Stephen Harper was born on April 30, 1959, in Toronto, Canada. During high school, Harper joined the Young Liberals Club, which turned out to be just the beginning of a politically active life. After graduating in 1978, Harper moved to Alberta and worked in the petroleum industry for three years before attending the University of Calgary, where he received both a bachelor’s degree (1985) and a master’s degree (1991) in economics. During this period he also began his political career, working as the executive assistant to Calgary’s Progressive Conservative MP Jim Hawkes.

By 1986, however, Harper had become disillusioned with the political landscape, in large part due to the region's seemingly diminished importance in relation to national affairs. That year, he left Hawkes's side, and the following year he was involved in the founding of a new political party to address his and others’ concerns, the socially conservative Reform Party of Canada.

Political Rise

With a career focused on politics and public policy analysis, Harper moved up the ranks of the Reform Party, and in 1993, he was elected to the Canadian House of Commons as its candidate. That same year he married Laureen Teskey, with whom he has two children, Benjamin and Rachel. 

After a falling out with Reform leader Preston Manning, Harper decided not to seek reelection in the 1997 race, and he eventually took the reins of the National Citizens Coalition, a right-wing lobbyist group. The Coalition was based on a philosophical foundation of low taxes and free-market capitalism, and also opposed the Canadian government's response to the separatist movement in Quebec. In the face of a favorable political landscape, Harper resigned as president of the coalition in the summer of 2001 and soon declared his candidacy to lead the Canadian Alliance Party, the successor to the Reform Party. 

Victory in the winter election ensued, and in early 2002, Harper headed to Parliament under the Alliance Party banner. Just a few years later, the political winds had shifted again, and the Alliance Party merged with the Progressive Conservative Party to form the new Conservative Party, of which Harper took the leadership position in 2004.

Prime Minister Harper

As a Conservative candidate, and with a minority government, Harper was sworn in as Canada's 22nd prime minister in February 2006, bringing to an end a 13-year liberal government. He proved to be a staunch proponent of laissez-faire capitalism, smaller government and social conservatism. The neoconservative mindset of the Harper administration also focused on reducing taxes, enlarging the military and securing Arctic waters for their energy resources is credited with having steered the Canadian economy through the 2008 financial crisis. In foreign affairs, Harper's government was strongly pro-Israel and launched Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan, while at home it took a more hard-line approach to crime and significantly increased funding for the prison system.

In March 2011, Harper's administration was found to be in contempt of Parliament for having withheld financial information related to its activities, and a general election was called for May 2. However, Harper came out the other side with a majority government (166 seats), his position more secure than before the forced election. Following this endorsement, Harper's government continued with its efforts to reduce government and spending and also introduced a controversial bill that allowed for greater domestic surveillance amidst growing concerns about terrorism. It also backed away from the Kyoto Protocol, choosing instead to implement more relaxed climate-change policies that drew harsh criticism from environmental groups.

2015 Election

Amidst a fraud scandal involving a member of his government and public outcry over Harper's stance on a Muslim woman being prevented from wearing a niqab during a citizenship ceremony, in the October 2015 elections, Harper ousted by 43-year-old candidate Justin Trudeau, whose liberal party also claimed a majority 184 seats. In the wake of the defeat, Harper kept his seat in the House of Commons but resigned as leader of the Conservatives.

A die-hard hockey fan, in 2013 Harper published the book A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs and the Rise of Professional Hockey. He is also a piano player and has frequently performed with a rock band at Conservative Party events. 

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