Harper united the right, won big prize

Tue Oct 14, 2008 11:17am EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose Conservatives were likely to retain power in Tuesday's election, has portrayed himself as best suited to lead the country as stock markets melted down.

"The number one job of the next prime minister of Canada is to protect this country's economy -- our earnings, savings, and jobs, at a time of global economic uncertainty," he told supporters on Monday.

During the campaign he stressed the need for lower taxes and lower inflation as well as balanced budgets. He also promised to crack down on crime.

Polls indicate Harper will keep his job, continuing a career in which he reaped major benefits by uniting the country's two fractious right wing parties in 2003.

Harper, a cold figure who opponents charge is hiding an extreme agenda, won a minority government in January 2006 and since then has tried to nudge the country more to the right.

The 49-year-old economist and policy wonk is instinctively uncomfortable with Canada's generous welfare state and industrial subsidies. But he has grown to accept them at least for now as he broadens his political base.

"I think the Canadian public has become more conservative ... (but) I don't want to say the Canadian public is overwhelmingly conservative or that it is necessarily as conservative as everybody in our party," he told supporters.

"Our party has to make sure that it continues to govern in the interests of the broad majority ... That means not only that we want to pull Canadians to conservatism but Conservatives also have to move toward Canadians."   Continued...

<p>Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a campaign rally at the airport in Fredericton, New Brunswick October 13, 2008. Canadians will head to the polls in a federal election October 14. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>