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Stephen Harper - Canada's Right Knight?

Challenges Ahead for the New Canadian Alliance Party Leader

By

Dateline: 03/22/02

Stephen Harper Wins Canadian Alliance Party Leadership

Stephen Harper has capped 18 months of bitter internal feuding in the Canadian Alliance Party by winning the leadership and soundly defeating the trouble-prone Stockwell Day.

Stephen Harper, a bilingual economist and early policy guru of the Reform Party of Canada, has maintained that he is not interested in joining up with Joe Clark and the Progressive Conservatives. In his acceptance speech, Stephen Harper said his team will be working on the premise that the Canadian Alliance Party is a "permanent political institution."

In the 2000 Canadian federal election, the Canadian Alliance Party won 66 of 301 seats in the House of Commons. Seven MPs elected under the Canadian Alliance Party banner are now outside the caucus and part of a coalition with the Progressive Conservatives. Harper seems lukewarm about wooing the dissidents back.

Stephen Harper's Policies

Stephen Harper's own policy beliefs are quite different from the populist approach of his early political mentor Preston Manning or the social conservatism of Stockwell Day. Harper supports:

  • direct democracy

  • decentralization and strong provincial rights

  • small government

  • free enterprise

  • changing the Canada Health Act to allow the provinces to experiment with private health care delivery

  • keeping moral and religious issues, such as abortion, separate from party politics

On the Agenda for Stephen Harper

Before Stephen Harper can set the Canadian Alliance Party on a new direction, he has more immediate concerns:

  • getting fundraising organized. Harper has pledged to eliminate the party's $2.3 million debt.

  • getting elected to the House of Commons. Harper was the MP for the Reform Party in Calgary West from 1993 to 1997, but left to work with the National Citizens' Coalition, a right-wing lobby group.

  • developing his communications and media skills. Harper is not well known outside the party and he does not have a natural bent for self-promotion and consensus-building.

Stephen Harper's biggest challenge will be to convince more Canadians that the Canadian Alliance Party can be a national party for the right, and to fight the perception that it may be heading back to being simply a western protest party.

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