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Mike Harris

Michael Deane Harris (born January 23, 1945) was the twenty-second Premier of Ontario from June 28, 1995 to April 15, 2002. He is most noted for the "Common Sense Revolution" and his large cuts to provincial programs and to taxes.

The Hon. Mike Harris
Term of Office:June 28, 1995 - April 15, 2002
Predecessor:Bob Rae
Successor:Ernie Eves
Date of Birth:January 23, 1945
Place of Birth:Toronto, Ontario
Spouses:Mary Alyce Coward
Janet Harrison
Political Party:PC

Harris was born in Toronto and grew up in the area around Lake Nipissing, where his father operated a ski hill. Harris worked at his father's ski hill and became a golf pro at a local course. He then went to teacher's college and became an elementary school teacher.

His first political activity was to run as a school board trustee in 1975. Five years later he entered provincial politics and defeated the incumbent Liberal MPP in 1981. He rose quickly through the ranks of William Davis's Tory government, becoming a cabinet minister in 1985.

In that year's provincial election, however, the Tories, led by Frank Miller, won a minority government and were then defeated on a motion of non-confidence by a coalition between David Peterson's Liberals and Bob Rae's New Democratic Party, consigning the Tories to opposition for the first time in 42 years. Miller resigned and was replaced by Larry Grossman, who in turn resigned shortly after failing to recapture power in the election of 1987. With the party not ready to hold a leadership convention, Andy Brandt served as interim leader until 1990, when Harris was elected to replace him. Under Harris, the Tories placed third in the provincial election that year.

By 1995 the governing New Democratic Party and incumbent Premier Bob Rae had become extremely unpopular with the electorate, mostly because of the state of the economy. The Liberals were leading in the pre-election polls, but after running a disastrously poor campaign began to leak support. Harris unveiled his aggressive "Common Sense Revolution" reminiscent of the United States Republican Party's "Contract with America," although free of most of its social conservatism. It called for sweeping spending cuts and large tax cuts.

Harris was elected with a sizeable majority government in the 1995 general election. Most of his support came from the wealthy "905 region" of Toronto's suburbs. Upon election the party immediately began to attract controversy. Its policies involved steep cuts to education, welfare, and Medicare, and the forced amalgamation of municipalities. Provincial income taxes were also cut by 30%. Municipal leaders complained because many of the cuts were "downloading" the costs of services that the province had paid for to their local governments. In 1997 the Ontario teachers held their largest walkout in history, but were defeated. Outside Queen's Park there were frequent large protests and near riots. Economic indicators in Ontario improved dramatically, however, and while the budget was still not balanced by the end of Harris' first term he still had much support.

In 1999 Harris was re-elected by his base in the 905 region, but more controversies followed. In Ipperwash Provincial Park, Ontario Provincial Police officers opened fire on unarmed First Nations demonstrators who had occupied the park. One of the demonstrators, Dudley George, was killed. The opposition contended that the attack was ordered by the Premier's office.

Even worse followed when in 2000 the town of Walkerton, Ontario's water became infected by E. coli. The badly cut back inspection services could not guarantee the safety of the water supply. Six people died and thousands became sick.

On a more personal note, Harris' marriage of twenty-five years broke apart and Harris began to pursue a relationship with a cabinet colleague.

Because of these stresses and the diminishing popularity of his government, Harris resigned in 2002 and was succeeded as premier by Ernie Eves.

Harris has frequently been cited as a potential federal politician who could "unite the right," but he has so far steadfastly declined to run.

Preceded by:
Bob Rae
List of Ontario premiers Succeeded by:
Ernie Eves