_Rona Ambrose, Interim Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and Leader of the Official Opposition, issued the following statement on former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s departure from political life: _ “Today, the Conservative Party of Canada joins all Canadians in expressing our utmost respect and warm wishes to Prime Minister Stephen Harper as he steps back from his role as the Member of Parliament for Calgary Heritage, and the Canadian political stage. “In 2003, Stephen Harper was at the forefront of the movement to unite conservative Canadians across this country under one banner. It would mark the beginning of more than a decade of his principled leadership. “The record Prime Minister Harper leaves in office is a proud one. Under his leadership, Canada’s foreign policy was clear-eyed and robust, and our nation’s principles were never for sale. He was the first Canadian Prime Minister in history to address the Knesset in Israel – a strong show of support for a democratic nation that remains our best and strongest ally in a turbulent part of the world. It was Prime Minister Harper who stood up to Vladimir Putin and led the charge to have Russia removed from the G8. Under Prime Minister Harper, Canada was an active ally in the global fight against terrorism. And he helped usher in a new era of greater respect for Canada’s men and women in uniform. “Here in Canada, his economic record speaks volumes. During his leadership Canada emerged from the global recession faster and stronger than any country in the G7, which included a net gain of 1.3 million new jobs, a balanced budget, and the wealthiest middle class anywhere on the globe. His time in office saw an ambitious free trade agenda open up markets around the world for Canadian businesses, and free trade deals now signed with over 40 countries. “At the heart of that record was a recognition of the everyday challenges facing hardworking families. We proudly note that it was thanks to his principled guidance that Canadians enjoyed the lowest tax burden in 50 years – including a lower GST, income splitting for couples, and tax free savings accounts. “Finally, Canada under Stephen Harper was committed to protecting the most vulnerable in our society. His leadership saw sweeping changes to strengthen child protection laws and the introduction of the Victims Bill of Rights, which once and for all put the rights of victims ahead of the rights of criminals. The creation of the Universal Child Care Benefit helped lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty, and the Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health initiative has helped save the lives of millions of mothers and babies around the world. “I’ve spoken with Prime Minister Harper upon news of his departure, and I took the opportunity to thank him for everything he has done – for the people of Calgary Heritage and Calgary Southwest before that, for proud conservatives everywhere, and for all Canadians. “I also expressed congratulations for the recent honour bestowed upon him by Ukrainian President Poroshenko. The Order of Liberty, one of Ukraine’s highest honours, recognizes Prime Minister Harper’s contributions to the strengthening of Ukraine’s sovereignty. This is only the latest demonstration of the lasting legacy with which Mr. Harper departs political life. “More than anything, Prime Minister Harper loves his family, and we thank Laureen, Ben and Rachel for sharing him with us for over 20 years. We also thank Laureen Harper for her devotion to so many charitable causes and our country. “On behalf of the Conservative caucus and the Conservative Party of Canada, we thank Stephen Harper for his immense contributions, and we wish him well in his future endeavours.” -30-