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Profile: Stephen Harper

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Stephen Harper reunited Canada's political right after years of disarray
Stephen Harper's election as Canada's prime minister in 2006 reversed more than a decade of Liberal Party rule in parliament.

It has also completed Mr Harper's transformation from hardline right-winger to progressive conservative with a party positioned at the centre of the political spectrum.

The Alberta MP, sometimes seen as an aloof figure more at home with a spreadsheet than working a crowd, has managed to stay at the helm of a minority government longer than expected.

Accusations that he was a pro-Bush "extremist" who would curb abortion rights and put an end to same-sex marriages have failed to stick.

But his success has also been credited to disarray among the opposition Liberals and a perceived lack of appetite among Canadians to head back to the polls.

And he has been described as a cautious prime minister who has made broad progress on only a limited agenda.

Reunited

Born in Toronto, Ontario, Mr Harper got involved in politics while still at school.

After obtaining a masters degree from the University of Calgary, he went on to work as a political aide.

Mr Harper, 49, won a parliamentary seat for the Reform Party in 1993, but quit four years later to work for a conservative lobby group.

He returned to parliament in 2002, as head of the Canadian Alliance and leader of the opposition. A year later, his party merged with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

The new Conservative Party, with Mr Harper at the helm, reunited Canada's political right after years of disarray.

But the father-of-two could not beat the Liberal leader Paul Martin in the 2004 election, who was able to form a minority government.

Observers say the Conservative Party's controversial statements on abortion and same-sex marriage lost them key votes on that occasion.

Next time round, Mr Harper - a keen strategist - managed to marginalise the more extreme elements of his party.

Once at the head of a minority government, Mr Harper eschewed formal arrangements with the opposition parties, preferring to negotiate with them one bill at a time.

But after two years, he called for a snap poll a year ahead of schedule, complaining that parliament was "dysfunctional" and deadlocked.




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