VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper scored a goal on Monday that had long eluded him, leading the Conservatives to the majority government he had failed to obtain in the last three elections.
Using a campaign strategy that reflected his governing style and personality, Harper’s message to voters was that Canada needed a stable Conservative government to ensure economic recovery and low taxes.
After losing the 2004 election to the Liberals, Harper led the Conservatives to victory in 2006 and 2008, but emerged from those wins with minority governments that needed the support of at least one opposition party to stay in power.
Harper, who turned 52 during the campaign and is an economist by training, is the third-longest serving Conservative prime minister since World War Two. He is not required to call another election until 2015.
He maintains strict control over his government to try to avoid negative press, and he is known to have an aloof public personality. His five-week campaign tour around Canada seemed a reflection of this. The Conservatives’ campaign allowed only limited media access and audience members had to register in advance to attend rallies.
The campaign protected front-runner Harper from the gaffes of the past elections that fueled voter fears he had a hidden right-wing social agenda that he would enact with a majority government.
He rejected criticism late in the campaign that he had ignored the surprise surge of New Democratic Party, who are traditionally election also-rans but ended up eclipsing the Liberals to emerge as a serious election foe.
Harper faces a Parliament far different than before the campaign. The left-of-center NDP is now the official opposition, the centrist Liberals reduced to an historic low and Bloc Quebecois, which advocates independent for Quebec, all but eliminated.
Harper has an instinctive distrust of big government and red ink. During the 2008 election campaign he scoffed at the idea of a big economic crash or recession.
But he turned with other world leaders to Keynesian economics to dig out of the recession, running the biggest budget deficit, in absolute dollar terms, in Canadian history.
Harper cut his political teeth in the Western province of Alberta, which long felt excluded from the traditional power centers in the east. He rose to prominence in the 1990s as a legislator for the right-of-center Reform Party, which campaigned under the slogan “The West wants in.”
Harper quickly became frustrated and returned to Alberta, where he urged that the province erect a firewall to prevent interference from the federal government. In 1997, he said Canada was a “welfare state in the worst sense of the term.”
Yet he was soon back on the national stage, winning the leadership of the Canadian Alliance -- the successor to Reform -- in 2002 and then pushing through a merger with the Progressive Conservatives to form the new Conservative Party.
Largely thanks to that merger, the Conservatives took power in 2006, when the forces on the center-left were divided. They remain divided.
Harper is married with two young children and is writing a book about ice hockey, Canada’s passion and its national winter sport. His wife Laureen, once an eager motorcycle rider, generally keeps a low profile.
With additional reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Will Dunham