North Bay, Ontario , Canada
|| January 23, 1945
Oct 29, 2012 08:28pm
Conservative - Anti-Labor - Government Reform - Health Care Reform - Pro- gun - Pro-Life - Pro-Smaller Government - Pro-Tort Reform -
|Info||Michael Deane "Mike" Harris was the 22nd Premier of Ontario from 1995 to 2002. He is most noted for the "Common Sense Revolution", his government's program of deficit reduction in combination with lower taxes and significant cuts to some government programs. |
Harris was born in Toronto and grew up in North Bay. Harris first attended Waterloo Lutheran University (now Wilfrid Laurier University) but left after a year. He then worked at his father's ski hill before attending Laurentian University and North Bay Teacher's College, and became an elementary school teacher. He also managed North Bay's Pinewood Park Golf Course. He entered provincial politics in 1981, defeating Michael Bolan, the incumbent Liberal MPP in Nipissing.
Harris sat as a backbencher in Bill Davis's Ontario Progressive Conservative Party government from 1981 to 1985. He supported Frank Miller's successful bid to succeed Davis as party leader in 1985. Miller was sworn in as Premier on Feb. 8, 1985, and appointed Harris as Minister of Natural Resources.
The Tories were reduced to a minority government in the 1985 election. However, the Miller government was soon defeated on a Motion of No Confidence by David Peterson's Liberals and Bob Rae's NDP.
An agreement between the Liberals and the NDP allowed a Liberal minority government to govern for two years. This consigned the Tories to opposition for the first time in 42 years. Miller resigned and was replaced by Larry Grossman, who led the party to a disastrous showing in the 1987 election.
Grossman remained the official party leader until 1990. Harris was chosen as PC house leader, and had become a dominant voice in the legislature. He entered the 1990 leadership race and defeated Dianne Cunningham to replace Grossman as the party leader.
The philosophical differences between Harris's core supporters and the traditional leadership of the party were significant. Before Harris, Ontario PC leadership was politically centrist in nature. Harris embodied a more conservative ideology.
The 1990 election was called soon after Harris became party leader. Harris rallied his party with pledges of tax cuts and spending reductions. The party increased its seat total to 20 out of 130.
On May 3, 1994, Harris unveiled his "Common Sense Revolution" platform. An unusual document in the normally centrist Ontario political environment, it called for significant spending cuts and large tax cuts, as well as elimination of the province's huge deficit.
By 1995, incumbent Premier Bob Rae and his NDP had become extremely unpopular, due to the state of the Ontario economy and its record debt and deficit. Lyn McLeod's Liberals were leading in pre-election polls, but they began losing support due to several controversial policy reversals. The turning point in the election is considered to be Harris' performance in the leader's debate. Harris used his time to speak directly to the camera to convey his platform.
Harris was elected with a majority in the 1995 election. Harris's victory may be credited in part to the way in which he presented himself as a populist, arguing that he and his party represented the interests of "ordinary Ontarians" over those of "special interests".
Upon election, the Harris government immediately began to implement a controversial agenda. One of its first major policy decisions after taking office was to cut social assistance rates by 22%. The government also introduced "Ontario Works," a program that required able-bodied welfare recipients to participate in training or job placements. Also, income taxes were cut by 30% to pre-1990 levels.
A separate controversy occurred shortly after the Harris government took office, involving events at Ipperwash Provincial Park, in which a native protester was killed by police.
Amid the general rise in the North American economy, economic indicators in Ontario improved. Ontario's growth outpaced most North American jurisdictions during Harris' first term. With a strong economy and the deficit almost eliminated, Harris was able to portray himself as an effective manager and won another majority government in 1999.
Harris's government balanced the provincial budget, although its critics contend that cuts in taxes caused a drop in revenues, which in turn led to renewed budget deficits after Harris resigned. Harris supporters pointed to the fact that government revenues rose from 1995 to 2001, when the budget was balanced. Harris' government reduced Ontario welfare rolls by 500,000 people; critics contend these cuts led to a rise in homelessness and poverty. Supporters argued that high welfare rates had created disincentives to find entry-level jobs, and that poverty levels remained relatively unchanged between 1995 and 2005. Employment rates increased significantly during the late 1990s, although some Harris critics argued that many of the new jobs were part-time rather than full-time.
Harris resigned in 2002 and was succeeded as Tory leader and premier by his long-time friend and Minister of Finance, Ernie Eves.
Later in 2002, Harris joined the Fraser Institute, a right-wing libertarian think tank as a 'Senior Fellow'. In January of 2003 Harris was named to the Board of Directors of Magna International.