Canada’s Harper, Iconic Conservative Leader, Quits Politics

  • Harper to take on new role launching Calgary-based consultancy
  • Former prime minister lost to Trudeau’s Liberals in 2015

Stephen Harper, who united and revived Canada’s conservative movement and led it to three election victories, will resign as a lawmaker Friday to work as a consultant, a person familiar with his plans said.

Harper, 57, will launch a Calgary-based consulting firm, Harper and Associates, providing strategic advice with a focus on developing international business, according to the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Stephen Harper
Stephen Harper
Photographer: Stuart Davis/Bloomberg

Harper served as Prime Minister from 2006 to 2015, when his Conservatives were defeated by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. The country’s unified Conservative Party is as much a legacy of Harper as his time as prime minister, and remains in the midst of a leadership race to replace him as Trudeau soars in public opinion polls.

Since election night last year, he has kept a low profile, with virtually no public appearances outside of parliamentary votes. He didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday.

“We united all Conservatives behind our agenda,” including tax cuts, a balanced budget and tougher criminal sentencing laws, Harper said in a written statement Friday confirming his departure. “Friends, we did a lot together but I know the best is yet to come. Our country must continue to serve as a model of prosperity and freedom.”

Trudeau’s party won a majority of districts last year with 39.5 percent of the vote, while Harper’s Conservatives secured 31.9 percent. Harper won his own electoral district and has stayed on as a Member of Parliament since.

Won Majority

He was first elected as a lawmaker in 1993, briefly then leaving politics before returning to seek and win the leadership of the Canadian Alliance party that -- frustrated by multi candidate races that divided the vote and delivered commanding majorities to the Liberal Party -- later merged with the Progressive Conservatives under the unified Conservative banner. He became prime minister in 2006, winning his only majority in 2011.

On the world stage, Harper was an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former British Prime Minister David Cameron in advocating for global austerity. As Prime Minister, he was an avowed supporter of Ukraine and a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Domestically, however, his pledge of balanced budgets and small government eventually ran its course against Trudeau, who was the only leader of a major Canadian party to promise deficits in last year’s election campaign. While Harper pushed in his final years as Prime Minister to successfully reach a surplus in time for the election, Trudeau’s debut budget this year pledged nearly C$120 billion ($93 billion) in cumulative deficits over six years to drive growth. Canada’s economy continues to struggle with low growth and the fallout from a commodities slump that has hurt its oil sector in particular.

Harper plans to stay out of domestic politics, the person said. His firm will focus on many sectors, with the aim of advising companies on operations in the U.S., Asia, Europe and the Middle East, they said. His new endeavor has been approved by the country’s ethics commissioner, the person said.

Harper’s Conservatives, now helmed by interim leader Rona Ambrose, remain Canada’s official opposition party -- with the second-highest number of elected lawmakers -- and its biggest fundraiser.

One poll released this week found 67 percent of Canadians would consider voting for Trudeau’s Liberals, compared to 36 percent who would consider the Conservatives.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE