(Ottawa) Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada badly needs a “conservative renaissance.”

Mr. Harper was addressing a room of party loyalists gathered in Ottawa on Wednesday for an annual networking conference hosted by the Canada Strong and Free Network, formerly the Manning Centre.

This is a rare public appearance by Stephen Harper, who left politics after losing the 2015 federal election to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.

Billed as a party “statesman”, Mr. Harper has come to the defense of the term “populism”, which he says is often portrayed in a negative or inaccurate light by the media he has referred to as “liberal media”.

Mr. Harper reminded the audience that the modern Conservative Party was built on populism in Western Canada, a sense of nationalism in Quebec and by Conservatives in Ontario.

He says it was thanks to Preston Manning, founder of the Reform Party, whose populist roots go back to the Prairies, that this modern version of the Conservative Party was born by merging with the former Progressive Conservatives to form the Conservative Party of Canada.