The woman who first stole Stephen Harper's heart — and later introduced him to his wife — remembers her former flame as funny, loyal, and driven.
Cynthia Williams opened up about her relationship with Harper in a new, five-part series and e-book on the prime minster by Postmedia's Mark Kennedy, titled "From Rebel To Realist."
Williams, who was engaged to Harper for a year in the 1980s, described her former beau as a bit of an introvert and a strong student at the University of Calgary who transformed into a Tory activist with a keen interest in policy.
"He's very honest, and he's very, very loyal," she told Kennedy. "You can never question that. If you are somebody that he cares about, he will be there for you."
Williams said she and Harper liked reading, going to movies, watching hockey (though she says he supported the Edmonton Oilers, not the Calgary Flames, back in the day) and going to the Calgary Zoo.
Harper broke up with her in 1986.
"We were growing apart," she said. "We kept in touch a little bit. It wasn’t a bad breakup."
In a 2007 Maclean's profile of Laureen Harper, Williams said she introduced Laureen to her ex in the early '90s, thinking the two may hit it off.
Williams worked with the future Mrs. Harper at GTO Printing and asked Laureen to join her and Harper for lunch. The rest is history.
"I like Laureen a lot," she told the magazine.
But it appears Williams' breakup with Harper wasn't entirely smooth.
In an expansive, CBC profile of Harper in advance of the 2004 election, Williams spoke of how, in the early '80s, she took Harper to meet then-Tory MP Jim Hawkes in Calgary. The popular politician would eventually bring Harper to Ottawa to work as his assistant, but he quit Hawkes' office about a year later.
In 1988, Harper, then just 27, ran against Hawkes in Calgary West as a Reform candidate.
Williams was unhappy that her ex-fiancée was taking on his old mentor and volunteered for Hawkes' successful campaign.
"That stunned me quite a bit," she told CBC. "I thought that Jim had been really great to us, taken us into his family – we used to be over at his family's house with all of his family."
Kennedy told The Hill Times this week that Williams, like many others he interviewed, didn't see Harper as a man focused on making it to the top in Canadian politics.
"They were engaged to be married for about a year, and the interesting thing about them is they discovered politics together. One of the fascinating things that many people told me over and over and over, including her, is that if you look at his career, which is what I've done in this e-book, decade by decade, is that he does not have that thirst for being a politician that many politicians have and that many segments of his career, he almost just accidentally stepped into the profession," Kennedy said. "Many people described him to me as, 'the reluctant politician.' He had to be pulled into the job."
Harper and his wife were married in 1993. They have two children, Ben, 17, and Rachel, 14.
Laureen Harper was married in 1985 to Neil Fenton, but the couple split in 1988.
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