DNTO

Did you know Stephen Harper wasn't always a Conservative?

No question about it, Conservative leader Stephen Harper is a true blue Tory. But there was a time as a teenager, just briefly, when he became a Liberal.
Alastair Gillespie, Stephen Harper and Paul Watson (Photos Courtesy: House of Commons, Paul Watson)
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No question about it, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is a true blue Tory. But there was a time as a teenager, just briefly, when he became a Liberal.

Harper's high school buddy Paul Watson, who used to debate him in history class, recalled the moment it happened. Watson had started a Young Liberals club in their Toronto neighbourhood and was trying to entice the local Liberal MP, Alastair Gillespie, to speak to his group.

So Watson went about selling Liberal memberships to beef up his club's credibility.

"Stephen Harper was an obvious guy to sell to," said Watson. "He was into politics, so I approached him. He was in it in a second."

Not long after, Gillespie agreed to a meeting in Watson's family basement. All of the newly-minted Liberals in the area, including Harper, gathered around to meet the MP.

"The only one who really knew what he was talking about was Stephen Harper," said Watson. "They had a great back and forth."

Watson can still remember the look on Gillespie's face as Harper challenged him. To Watson, it said "Who let this kid in?! He can't possibly be a Young Liberal!"

After that, it was more obvious than ever that Harper wasn't really red. 

"I can guarantee you he was no longer a Young Liberal after that session." - Paul Watson

Watson added he's always admired Harper's ability to meet new people and engage them in political discussion, even when he doesn't agree with their point of view.

"I likened him to a high school anthropologist," he said. Whether it was the jocks or the nerds, "Harper moved freely among those groups."

Watson still sees the same quality in Harper today, particularly after a lunch date the two old friends had after Harper became prime minister. 

"Being able to disagree with someone who you have to trust is not going to make it public reminded me of what he was so good at in high school," Watson said.