Stephen Joseph Harper (born April 20, 1959) is a Canadian politician.
He 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, ultimately lecturing there and receiving a Masters degree in economics. Harper became involved in politcs in the mid-80s but became disillusioned with the government of Brian Mulroney; he was especially critical on issues of fiscal policy.
Harper was recommended to Preston Manning, the founder of the Reform Party 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 Party's 1993 election platform.
Harper has been described as a "policy wonk" and an "ideological conservative". Of unquestioned intelligence, he has a strong knowledge of Canadian history as well as economics. His dedication to the conservative cause, however, made him more resistant than other members of the Reform Party to compromising basic principles in order to have greater electoral success. Harper has considered the model of the socialist NDP which has had a major effect on Canadian policy even with only winning a few seats.
In the 1988 Canadian election Harper ran for a seat in Calgary, but lost by a wide margin to the Tory candidate. He fared better in the 1993 election where he won the riding of Calgary West. Harper arrived in Parliament with a large group of new MP's. Harper quickly became one of the core members of the parliamentary delegation.
Harper disagreed with Preston Manning's decision to give the Reform Party an increasingly populist bent, and decided to not run for reelection in the 1997 election. He left Reform to lead the National Citizens' Coalition (NCC), a right-wing lobbying group. With the NCC, Harper launched a successful legal battle against Canada's third-party election gag laws.
In response to the Canadian Alliance's - a successor party to Reform - poor showing in the 2000 election, a disappointed Harper joined with other western figures to endorse a policy of strict adherence to constitutionally mandated separation of powers - what was termed a "firewall around Alberta" - in order to limit intrusion by the federal government into areas of strictly provincial jurisdiction.
With the collapse of Stockwell Day's leadership of the Canadian Alliance in the summer of 2001 a leadership convention was held. In the vote on March 20, 2002, Harper handily defeated and replaced Day as leader of the Alliance.