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'God's verdict' outranks history's, PM says

Stephen Harper, his wife Laureen, daughter Rachel and son Ben wave from the top of the stairs before boarding their plane in Calgary on Oct. 15, 2008.

Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper says he's more concerned about God's judgment than how history books rate his term in office, telling a Quebec magazine in a markedly personal interview that preserving relationships with family is far more important than worrying about a political legacy.

Driving his point home, the Prime Minister told Quebec City's Prestige magazine that it would be a "disaster" to win elections but lose one's family in the process.

The interview, which appears in the Quebec City publication's September issue, is an attempt to soften Mr. Harper's hard-edged image in the province, where Conservative fortunes have slid since the 2008 election.

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The Tory Leader has long cultivated support in Quebec City, where he has a much more solid base than in Montreal and its suburbs.

In the article, Mr. Harper said it's too early to consider how history will treat him, adding that a more pressing and ever-present priority is ensuring family comes first.

"The important thing, for me, is to preserve family ties. I can win elections, but if I lose my family, it's a disaster."

He said he is not troubled by thoughts of what judgment history will render.

"To be honest with you, I am a lot more concerned by God's verdict regarding my life than the one of historians," the Prime Minister said with a laugh, according to the article.

Giving interviews to regional publications such as Prestige allows Mr. Harper to bypass the national media and directly reach a key audience of decision makers and supporters. The interview also reinforces Mr. Harper's constant message that Quebec City holds a special place in his heart, especially as he talks in personal terms about his family and work.

Asked about the perception he is cold and aloof, Mr. Harper replied that he didn't enter public life for the limelight - and jokes that he in turn finds journalists hard to approach.

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"Honestly, I'm not into politics to play to the microphones and the cameras," he said. "I'm there to ensure that the government acts responsibly, protects the population and meets its needs. I can take the criticism - it comes with the job - but my main preoccupation is not my personal image, but rather the country's higher interests."

Mr. Harper conducted the interview on Quebec's St. Jean Baptiste Day, the June 24 holiday that celebrates Québécois pride and culture.

The Prestige article features photographs supplied by the Prime Minister's Office of Mr. Harper skating with his son, playing cards with his daughter and the whole family including wife Laureen waving from an airplane door.

Mr. Harper returned to the theme of doting dad when asked about his passion outside politics. He talked of changing relations with his son Ben as the boy enters his teen years - a development that gives the Prime Minister more time with his daughter Rachel.

"I have to negotiate with my 13-year-old boy who is more and more independent and is more interested in being with his friends than his father. By contrast, my 10-year-old girl sees the opportunity to become 'number one,' and she is very adept at filling the void left by my boy," he said.

The Conservatives have 10 seats in Quebec, mostly in the greater Quebec City area and in ridings south of the provincial capital.

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While provincewide Conservative poll numbers have so far failed to return to the levels they reached during the last election, the Prime Minister remains popular in the Quebec City area. He received a warm reception this week as he announced funding for the expansion of a football stadium at Laval University.

In the interview, Mr. Harper also talked about his well-known passion for hockey and his complicated relationship with the piano.

"When I play the piano, I become very involved emotionally, I'm no longer the same person. It's not just a hobby," Mr. Harper said.

Mr. Harper described his job as the best in the world, but he added the toughest part is talking with the family of a Canadian soldier who has died in Afghanistan.

"I rarely find the appropriate words in those circumstances."

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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