Today’s Parent interviews Prime Minister Stephen Harper

How do you create a ‘normal’ childhood, when you live at 24 Sussex?

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Illustrations: Aidan Kim, age 6

STEPHEN HARPER, leader of the Conservative Party.

AGE: 56

FAMILY STATUS: He and his wife, Laureen, celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary last December. He is dad to Ben, 18, and Rachel, 16.

GO-TO BEDTIME STORY WHEN THE KIDS WERE LITTLE: “With Ben, we read the whole Harry Potter series. With my daughter, we read the Magic Tree House books. If your children are just starting to be interested in reading or being read to, you actually can’t get better books than that.”

WHAT HE’D DO IF RE-ELECTED AS PRIME MINISTER: “There are a whole bunch of things that we would do. We’re living in an age of unprecedented economic instability. It’s been going on for seven years now and, through that, we’ve been doing everything we can to protect Canadian jobs and grow the Canadian economy. The most important priority for people is growing our economy and creating jobs. There are specific things we’re doing for parents and families. Over the summer, we made the Universal Child Care Benefit bigger—it now goes up to age 17. We’re providing additional funds for institutional childcare expenses, and we’re providing income splitting for parents with children. We’ve also announced enhancements to Registered Education Savings Plans to match grants for lower income parents. So look, we’re doing everything we can to make life more affordable and create more opportunities—especially for parents with children.”

HIS PARENTING PHILOSOPHY: “I don’t think that Laureen and I ever sat down and really discussed a philosophy. I’m certainly more the disciplinarian than my wife—Laureen is not at all a disciplinarian. But generally our approach has been a little bit different than how I was raised. There is a framework with some rules, but we try to let it go within that, so long as the kids are doing something, to let them find their own passions, their own individuality. I’m sure we’ve done a million things wrong—as all parents do.”

WHAT IT’S LIKE RAISING KIDS AT 24 SUSSEX DRIVE: “When I got back into public life, Ben was only five or six years old and Rachel was three. And so we’re in a situation that’s very different than other people’s. How do we provide them with a normal family life, community life, neighbourhood, friends and school? To be honest, I think one of the best things we did was to keep our kids in public school. I’m a believer in the public school system, and I think that especially for our children—given how they could often be living in a very cloistered environment—attending the public school system and meeting a range of kids from different backgrounds have been a positive thing. We’ve tried to give them as much as we can in the extraordinarily unusual circumstances of being children of the prime minister. We try to give them a life that, in terms of activities and relationships, would be very similar to other children because someday we’ll be back in private life and they’ll be making their own way in the world.”

From left: Rachel, Laureen, Stephen and Ben Harper. Photo: Jill Thompson
From left: Rachel, Laureen, Stephen and Ben Harper. Photo: Jill Thompson

GETTING QUALITY TIME: “The truth is, particularly given my job once I got back into public life, Laureen has carried the lion’s share of the child-raising. What I always try to do is make sure that, whether it’s the weekend or evenings, we set a time where I spend time with the children and try to focus on the things that they’re interested in. As all parents know, you hit an age—usually around grade seven or eight—where they don’t necessarily want to spend that time with you, so you have to pick your openings.”

THE BEHAVIOUR HE ENCOURAGES: “To me, the most important thing is respect for other people. I always say to the kids, “You don’t have to like everyone, you don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you don’t pick on people. You don’t single people out because they’re different. And if that goes on, you call it—you stand up against it. It’s not how we conduct our lives. You don’t build yourself up by belittling others.” Our kids, I think, have got that message.”

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING FAIR: “I tell my kids, particularly my son, who likes to compete and to win: ‘You’ve got to be fair. You don’t win by cheating; you win fair. Respect rules, be honest, apply yourself when you’re in an activity. Make a decision later, and don’t quit in the middle.’”

THE LEARNING GOES BOTH WAYS: “My son is now in university, so it’s a totally different relationship with him now. My relationship with my son is with another adult. And actually, to be frank about it, he’s actually a good source of advice. I think he’s wise beyond his years. Or maybe I’m not as wise as I think because he seems smarter than me on some of these things. He’s a high-performance athlete—he is on the university volleyball team and he has really developed in that role. In a political race like this, he understands the psychology of going through the ups and downs.”

ADVICE FOR WOULD-BE PARENTS: “Those phases go so quickly—the rolling phase, the toddler phase and so on. It all just goes too quickly, and you don’t want to miss any of it.”

Read more:
Today’s Parent interviews Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau>
Today’s Parent interviews NDP leader Thomas Mulcair>
Today’s Parent interviews Green Party leader Elizabeth May>
Kid talk: What does the prime minister do?>

 

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