Canada profile

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor general

Prime minister: Stephen Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper Prime Minister Stephen Harper leads Canada's Conservative government

The Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper won a third consecutive term in office in snap elections held in May 2011.

The party gained support, transforming its minorty in parliament into a majority.

Mr Harper's government had been toppled by the opposition in March 2011. A motion, brought by the main opposition Liberal Party and backed by two other opposition parties, declared the government was in contempt of parliament and had lost its confidence in a row centered on Mr Harper's budget plans.

The opposition said Mr Harper's government was in contempt of parliament for failing to provide the estimated costs for a number of spending programmes.

It was the first time that a Canadian government had been found in contempt of parliament.

Mr Harper became prime minister in 2006, after elections that brought to an end 12 years of Liberal government.

However, the Conservatives failed to win an overall majority and had to work with opposition parties in order to govern.

Economic crisis

Two years into his first term, Mr Harper called an early election in an attempt to win a working majority. His party improved its position in the October 2008 election, winning 16 more seats than in the 2006 election, but still fell short of an overall majority.

Two months later, Mr Harper came close to being toppled by an alliance of the opposition Liberal and New Democrat parties over his handling of the economic crisis, but avoided a no-confidence vote by suspending parliament for a month.

He prorogued parliament for a second time in January 2010, this time for two months. He described the suspension as "routine", but it drew an angry response from opposition leaders.

They said the move was aimed at avoiding a potentially embarrassing debate on the government's role in the torture of Afghan terror detainees.

Born in Toronto, Ontario in 1959, Stephen Harper studied economics at the University of Calgary in Alberta. He became an MP in 1993 and became leader of the newly-merged Conservative party in 2004.

He is married and has two children. Aside from politics and intellectual pursuits, he is passionate about ice hockey.

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