- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

TORONTO Canada's most powerful conservative politician, whose "Common-sense Revolution" marked a sharp break with Ontario's liberal government predecessors, announced yesterday he plans to resign.

Mike Harris, whose unabashed pro-business, anti-government program earned him the nickname the "Newt of the North," said his six years as premier of Canada's largest and richest province would end within the next six months when his Progressive Conservative Party elects a new leader.

Mr. Harris insisted his decision had nothing to do with his low standing in the polls or his recent reunion with his wife after a two-year estrangement.

It was a "personal decision," he said. "Your gut kind of tells you what you think is best."

Born in the northern Ontario town of North Bay, Mr. Harris, a one-time teacher and golf pro, grabbed the leadership of a drifting Conservative Party in 1990 and forged it into a winning machine with a tightly focused agenda.

In 1995, he took his "front porch" approach to government lower taxes, less government interference and more government accountability and swept into power bypassing the cities and capturing the rural and suburban parts of the province, said Darrell Bicker of the Toronto-based polling firm, Ipsos-Reid.

Hammering home the need to address a $6 billion deficit left over from the earlier provincial governments dominated by the Liberal Party and left-of-center New Democratic Party, Mr. Harris rammed through his reforms.

Mr. Harris' first term, which first earned him the comparison with former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, was marked by cuts in taxes, welfare rates, education spending, hospital closures and the forced amalgamation of the smaller municipalities that made up the province's three main cities Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton.

"He ran up against everybody doctors, nurses, teachers, every organization, union and interest group in the province" as he "bulled through his agenda," Mr. Bicker said. "He was not a guy in the middle. You either loved him or hated him, and in this province that ended up in equal amounts."

Despite and perhaps because of his force-feeding approach to reform, Mr. Harris' Conservatives won an unprecedented second term with a clear majority government in 1999.

But the Conservative leader's second term was marked by a sense of drift and even back-pedaling on his earlier agenda, said Fred Fletcher, a political science professor at Toronto's York University.

"During his first term, he ran the province in a way that was close to model of the [U.S.] Republican Party less government and fewer public services, less investment in various kinds of education and more support for private sector solutions along with a kind of permanent campaign. [The Progressive Conservatives] were always concerned how their actions would affect their core constituency," he said.

But in his second term, the government began to "moderate its policies on the environment and education," he added.

Along with the sense of political indecision, Mr. Harris' second term was marred by controversies such as a health crisis caused by tainted municipal water supplies, which opponents blamed on cutbacks in provincial environmental services.

In Canada's parliamentary politics, a party can hold on to power despite the premier's decision to leave, and so the Conservatives can remain in power for up three more years.

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