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Former prime minister Stephen Harper delivers the keynote address at a conservative conference, March 22, in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper says current party Leader Pierre Poilievre should not be putting out too many policy prescriptions now, but rather holding onto those ideas for the next federal election.

Mr. Harper told a standing-room crowd attending a conservative conference in an Ottawa ballroom on Wednesday night that he is aware that people say conservative opposition parties should develop plans and proposals now.

In the case of federal Conservatives, Mr. Harper said, “I worry that that’s what the liberal media here wants Pierre Poilievre to do – make himself the issue.”

“The time to tell people about your alternatives in detail is in an election campaign,” he said in a fireside chat with Reform Party founder and former leader Preston Manning held as part of the annual Canada Strong and Free Network conference in Ottawa.

The network is the successor organization to the Calgary-based Manning Centre for Building Democracy, which Mr. Manning founded in 2005 to highlight conservative values.

Mr. Harper warned that while federal Conservatives should not now be revealing their policy ideas, work should be under way to develop those details ahead of the election and potential government.

“I can tell you from experience that once you get into office, you better have some idea of what you are going to do because it ain’t going to fall into your lap,” he said.

Mr. Poilievre has released some policy ideas. Over the past weekend, for example, he proposed a testing standard that would federally certify doctors and nurses who did not study in Canada. The Conservative Leader has also proposed expanding Canada’s seal hunt.

Mr. Harper said he tells conservative opposition leaders that they should not be saying how they would run the country, but rather be making the government wear its mismanagement, corruption and incompetence. “That’s the job.”

Mr. Harper is the only member of the federal Conservative Party to serve as prime minister. He won minority governments in 2006 and 2008, then won a majority in 2011. In 2015, Justin Trudeau led the federal Liberals to a majority government.

Last summer, Mr. Harper endorsed Mr. Poilievre, an Ottawa-area MP who held a pair of cabinet posts in Mr. Harper’s government, for the leadership of the Conservatives. He did not issue any such endorsements during the 2017 and 2020 Conservative leadership races.

He said Wednesday that he expects that Mr. Poilievre will be the next prime minister.

Mr. Harper helped found the Reform Party, and served as an MP for the party from 1993 to 1997.

In 2002, he became leader of the Canadian Alliance, and negotiated the merger of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance to form the Conservative Party.

Since leaving elected politics, Mr. Harper set up Harper & Associates, a consulting firm that, according to its website, “combines the global network, experience and insight of a G-7 Leader to create value for clients.”

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