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article imageCanada PM to resign as Tory leader after election loss

By Michel Comte (AFP)     Oct 20, 2015 in World

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper will resign as Conservative leader after losing legislative elections to the Liberals led by Justin Trudeau.

Party president John Walsh said in a statement late Monday that Harper had instructed him to "reach out to the newly elected parliamentary caucus to appoint an interim leader" and to start a process of selecting a new leader.

Harper led three successive governments since 2006 before he was defeated in a come-from-behind Liberal landslide on Monday.

An economist once seen as prickly, awkward and more at home ploughing through economic theory than glad-handing voters on the campaign trail, Harper had managed to smooth his image since taking office.

But his popularity sank to an all-time low ahead of the latest ballot.

A father of two with clear blue eyes and neatly parted gray hair, the 56-year-old carved out an early reputation as a brilliant theoretical economist.

He marginalized more hardline elements of his own party and -- despite his own social conservative values -- steered clear of thorny issues like gay marriage and abortion. This helped him win in mostly moderate Canada.

Belting out Beatles tunes and playing piano at a concert accompanied by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as well as displaying his passion for ice hockey, also endeared him to Canadians over the years.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives the thumbs-up while speaking to supporters after conced...
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives the thumbs-up while speaking to supporters after conceding defeat to the Liberals on election night in Calgary, October 19, 2015
David Buston, AFP

But opponents charge his softer image masked an autocratic governing style, and complained that under his leadership Canada has lost clout on the world stage.

Seeking to patch things up, prime minister-elect Justin Trudeau thanked Harper for his many years of public service, adding: "Conservatives are not our enemies, they're our neighbours."

Born April 30, 1959 in Toronto, Harper packed up at 18 to work in the oil fields of Alberta.

In the early 1980s, he studied economics in Calgary and became a leading proponent of the so-called Calgary School, a group that called for lower taxes, a smaller federal government and free markets unfettered by social programs.

First elected to the House of Commons in 1993, Harper quit politics four years later to work for a conservative lobbying group.

He returned to Ottawa in 2002 as head of the rightist Canadian Alliance and succeeded the following year in merging it with the Progressive Conservatives, which traces its roots to Canada's first prime minister, Sir John Macdonald.

Uniting the right, however, left him little time to lay out a coherent electoral strategy, and his new Conservative Party lost out to Paul Martin's Liberals in 2004.

In the 2006 election, Harper's party struck a more centrist tone and focused on fiscal initiatives instead of social conservatism.

The Conservatives' victories in 2006, 2008 and 2011 were based on promises of tax cuts, more military spending and vows to cede more power to the provinces.

In this election, Harper once again laid out a "stay the course" campaign focused on the economy.

As prime minister, Harper radically altered Canada's foreign policy, transforming it from an impartial arbiter to an assertive power with its own agenda. It included strident support for Israel and refocusing aid from Africa to South America.

On the domestic front, Harper defended Canada's Arctic claims, while appearing to show little interest in climate change.

Supporters say he strayed somewhat from his fiscally conservative roots, while opponents called for "anyone but Conservatives" to govern.

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