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Canadian Alliance Elects New Leader

CALGARY, Alberta – Canada’s main opposition party elected a new leader Wednesday after Canadian Alliance members voted to end the short, fractious reign of Stockwell Day.

Stephen Harper, a 42 year-old former Parliament member from the Reform Party, which became the Alliance Party in 2000, received just over 55 percent of the mail-in ballots to capture the majority required for victory.

“My immediate objective is to get this party back on track and ready for the next election,” said Stephen Harper.

Day, who stepped down as party leader in December due to an internal revolt, received just over 37 percent.

“The party needed new leadership,” Harper said.

Harper takes over a party badly depleted by the internal rift that saw leadership candidate Grant Hill and six others leave the Canadian Alliance in Parliament to vote with Conservative Party members in a new bloc.

When Day was chosen leader of the Alliance after it formed two years ago, it had 205,000 paid members. The party is down to 124,162 members.

The Alliance’s roots as a Western protest movement that grew into the nation’s second-largest party still hinders its ability to attract support in the more moderate central and eastern provinces of Canada. It has failed to attract significant support in vote-rich Ontario, the most populous province with 101 of the 301 seats in the House of Commons.

“If we had all the votes from all the conservative people in this country we would have no problem forming a government,” Harper said.

The internal rift last year involved an attempt by Hill and others to topple Day, a former preacher who opposes abortion, favors capital punishment and believes the creation theory.(ap)

HARPER’S BIOGRAPHY

Harper first began to earn his political stripes as a parliamentary assistant to Jim Hawkes (PC – Calgary West) in the early 1980s. He then worked for Deborah Grey when she became the first Reform MP elected to the House of Commons. In 1988 and in 1993 he ran under the Reform banner in Calgary West, successfully capturing the seat on his second attempt.

Many people will remember Harper as a Member of Parliament who served Reform as spokesperson for areas including finance and national unity. He was one of the key architects of the Reform Party’s ‘zero in three’ plan that was the centerpiece of the Party’s 1993 election platform.

As a bilingual MP, Harper was active fighting for a strongly united Canada during the 1995 Quebec Referendum, highlighted by several televised appearances in English and French. He was also a key drafter of the Reform Party’s two pronged approach to national unity following the narrow victory in the 1995 referendum.

Since 1998, Harper has been president of the National Citizens Coalition, a conservative citizens advocacy group. Stephen Harper, 42, was born and raised in the Toronto suburbs of Leaside and Etobicoke. He moved to Alberta to work in the energy industry in 1978 (prior to the implementation of the federal National Energy program). He received his Economics undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Calgary, where he also taught as a sessional lecturer.

Harper has been a frequent political commentator and his writings have appeared in a variety of widely distributed periodicals, including the National Post and the Globe and Mail.

He and his wife Laureen, and their two young children, reside in Calgary.

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