Toronto Star

Saturday, August 21, 1999

Harris and wife agree to `trial' split

By Joel Ruimy, Caroline Mallan and Theresa Boyle
Toronto Star Queen's Park Bureau

Premier Mike Harris and his wife, Janet, are separating on a ``trial basis'' in a bid to save their marriage of 25 years.

``It's on a trial basis and we're hoping we can get back together,'' Harris told the North Bay Nugget yesterday from the driveway of his North Bay home where Janet and their two sons will continue to live without him.

``It's not anyone else for her, or anyone else for me.''

Harris' office in Toronto issued a statement earlier in the day confirming the couple had separated but making no mention in the terse five-sentence release about any hope for reconciliation.

The surprise announcement raised fresh questions about whether Harris, who turns 55 in January, will seek a third term as Premier after leading his Progressive Conservatives to victory in the June 3 election.

``Premier Mike Harris and his wife Janet, after a very difficult decision, will be amicably separating,'' the release said.

``Mrs. Harris will continue to fulfill the public obligations she has undertaken over the past number of years,'' the statement said of 50-year-old Janet's involvement with Easter Seals and the Invest in Kids Foundation.

``Mike and Janet will continue to share in the lives of their two sons. However, Mrs. Harris and the boys will reside in North Bay.''

The couple also asked that ``the responsibilities they hold as a result of the Premier's public life not interfere with the need for privacy for their children during this very personal time.''

At her home in North Bay yesterday, Janet Harris was determined to keep her personal life private.

``I'm sorry. I just can't talk about it right now. I have no comment right now,'' she told The Star's Debra Black.

The split left some of the couple's closest friends and political associates using words like ``floored'' and ``shocked'' to describe their reaction.

Janet Harris plans to live at the couple's house in their hometown of North Bay with Mike Jr., 14, and Jeffrey, 7. The Premier will stay in Toronto but visit North Bay regularly to see the boys.

The couple has no plans for a divorce, the friend said.

One close friend of Mike Harris said ``you can't overestimate the impact of his father's death'' on the Premier. Deane Harris died April 11 at the age of 85 after a long struggle with cancer.

Yesterday's announcement fuels intense speculation at either end of the political spectrum. The Premier may have decided to bow out of political life after this mandate - or he now is free to seek a third term, or even enter federal politics as a Tory, a Reformer or even with the United Alternative.

Campaign Manager Leslie Noble said in May she ``would not expect that he would run again after this (election) because he never wanted to spend his life in politics.

``He got into this to do a few things and I imagine he'll want to move on while he still has a few productive working years left,'' she said of the one-time small businessman and teacher who has been an MPP since 1981.

Harris is thought to be interested in joining the boards of several large corporations after politics, much like his predecessors Bill Davis and David Peterson have. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney did the same after leaving public life in 1993.

Harris has also been quoted as saying he wants out of the political and social whirl.

``When this is all over, and it will be someday, Janet and I will not be a part of that scene and will go back to the life we had before,'' he has told friends.

The Harrises appeared comfortable and happy with each other during the election campaign in June; Janet attended most of the Premier's events on the hustings, a discreet and smiling presence.

She never addressed the crowds but she was easygoing and chatty with reporters covering the campaign, talking freely about the couple's children and the nuisance of weeds in the yard of their rented house in the York Mills Rd.-Bayview Ave. area.

And as recently as last week, the entire family accompanied Harris to Quebec city for the 40th Annual Premiers' Conference, where the Premier told reporters he wanted to ``show my family this wonderful historic city.''

Janet Harris is known in Queen's Park circles as a ``free spirit.'' In 1997, she took motorcycle lessons and now rides a Harley-Davidson in North Bay. She also plays a mean country fiddle.

Born Janet Ina Harrison, the daughter of a North Bay dairy owner and herself a golf-course manager, she met Mike Harris in the early 1970s at a local water-ski club at the North Bay resort owned by Harris' father.

Young Mike gave her lessons in water-skiing and they wed on April 19, 1974.

The couple kidded at the time that she dropped just two letters from her maiden name and kept her monogrammed bath towels.

It was Mike Harris' second marriage. In 1967 he wed Mary Alyce Coward.

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