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Teenage Stephen Harper grappled with God, remembers his confirmation class teacher

By Tim Johnson

Stephen Harper’s 1978 yearbook photo from Richview Collegiate Institute in Etobicoke, Ont. Toronto Star/CP Images
Stephen Harper’s 1978 yearbook photo from Richview Collegiate Institute in Etobicoke, Ont. Toronto Star/CP Images

“He wasn’t an outsider, exactly. He just wasn’t the life of the party,” Moulton adds, observing that Harper showed no particular interest in sports or music. Which is why he was so surprised when he heard that the prime minister, as an adult, had written a book on hockey. Moulton reasons that this was part of an intelligent political calculation, akin to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s relationship with jazz music. “It’s not basic to his nature,” says Moulton. “He’s a serious person, and he needed that to humanize himself.”

Back at St. Luke’s, Harper rarely missed a confirmation class, which ran for one hour every Sunday morning, from October to April. But then, Harper made a decision — one that was his alone — not to be confirmed. “He had a hard time getting his mind around the concept of God,” Moulton remembers. “He just couldn’t figure it.” Moulton wasn’t offended — in fact, he respected Harper for his decision. “I understood how his mind functioned. I accepted that it was valid. It was more honourable than just going through to the end for the sake of it.”

Moulton notes that Harper’s religious ideas began to firm up once he moved west, to Calgary, and became close to Preston Manning. “He would send these long letters, 10 or 12 pages, in tiny writing, asking me how I could explain this or that from Manning’s speeches and sermons,” he says. “He had a lot of moral and theological questions.” Moulton would respond in kind, but it was a big job — analyzing his letters, then writing back on all the different topics was a time consuming process. “It wasn’t just an hour — it would take a whole day to respond,” Moulton remembers. With the passing of time, the two slowly lost contact.

And while Moulton enjoyed the meeting of the minds, they never really agreed on politics. He notes that Harper’s father always had conservative leanings, something that rubbed off on the future prime minister, and he moved even further right once he moved west. But Moulton doesn’t think Harper is a true fundamentalist — rather that his intellect, combined with the residual impact of the United Church, keeps him moderate. On the issue of abortion, for example, Moulton sees the pressure the prime minister feels from the right to prohibit the practice, but doubts Harper would ever support this. “He reasons it through. He sees both sides of the issue,” Moulton observes.

While Harper today is a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Moulton is convinced that the United Church had a lasting impact on the current prime minister. Years later, when Harper was already leader of the opposition, his father died; he sent Moulton a handwritten note, expressing how much the minister had meant to his dad and the family, along with a program from the funeral. “We may not see eye to eye on politics, but he had — and still has — a solid ethical foundation and moral stance,” maintains Moulton. “And I know he got that from the United Church.”

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