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Harper's makeover may bring him victory

Harper's makeover may bring him victory

Stephen Harper was once seen as a cold, scowling right-wing policy machine: Now, armed with a smooth, smiling new image, he might just be Canada's prime minister in waiting.

Harper's right wing Conservative Party goes into the final weekend of a six-week general election campaign with a nine point lead in opinion polls over the centrist Liberal Party which has ruled the country for 12 years.

If that holds up in tomorrow's election, he will become known as the man that united warring factions on the right, led them to victory, and wrote Prime Minister Paul Martin's political obituary.

Harper, 46, with a gray mop of hair neatly parted and sky blue eyes, carved out an early reputation as a brilliant theoretical economist - who favored delving into policy books over the fierce combat of the political trenches.

His pasty demeanour prompted one Montreal newspaper recently to question his charisma, likening him to a "robot giving off about as much heat as an iceberg."

But as his Conservatives surged ahead in recent public opinion polls, he looked more relaxed on the campaign trail, even joking about his lack of charm.

Opponents say his suave new image masks a hardline right wing agenda, with much in common with the political powerbase of U.S. President George W. Bush who is highly unpopular in Canada.

Martin has branded Harper an "extremist" who wants to curtail abortion rights, reverse same sex marriage reforms, and stack Canadian courts with conservative judges hostile to mainstream Canadian values.

In late 2003, Harper succeeded in merging Canada's two rightist parties into the Conservative Party of Canada, but with little time to lay out a coherent electoral strategy, lost out to Martin in the last Canadian election in June 2004.

His campaign sank under the weight of his and others' controversial statements on abortion and gay marriage, allowing the Liberals to form a minority government.

This time round, Harper learned from past mistakes. His party has become more centrist, focused on fiscal initiatives instead of social conservatism while the fringe elements in its midst have been muzzled.

He promised tax cuts to middle class Canadians, more military spending and to devolve more power to the provinces.

Still, Harper has not changed his core political beliefs. He remains hostile to gay marriage and the Kyoto Protocol on climate change ratified by Canada.

The father of two is still seen as an intellectual forever in love with ideas, philosophy and history.

His only other known passion is ice hockey. Even during a hectic election campaign, he found time to work on a book on the history of a sport followed with feverish passion in frigid Canada.

Harper was born into a middle-class family in Toronto. His parents valued honesty and integrity above all else, he said.

At 18, he moved west to Alberta province to work for an oil company for two years, before enrolling in economic studies at the University of Calgary. There, he embraced conservative political values.

He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993, but quit politics in 1997 to work for a conservative lobby group, but returned to Ottawa in 2002 as head of the Canadian Alliance, a party born out of the ashes of the Reform Party.

He made it his mission to reunite Canada's fractured political right to challenge the Liberals' decade-long hegemony.

Updated : 2021-05-19 02:58 GMT+08:00