After nearly a decade as prime minister, Harper’s capacity to reward loyalty is no longer what it used to be; nor is his latitude to punish those who cross him.
The prime minister can technically still appoint senators but a lingering scandal makes that politically suicidal. And on the heels of a string of bad appointments his judgment has widely been called into question.
Meanwhile, the more ambitious Conservatives are looking beyond Harper’s reign. The more timorous are afraid he might take them down with him.
Harper’s approval rating has fallen below 30 per cent. So have party fortunes in voting intentions. This is not a passing slump. It has endured for more than a year. And that can only exacerbate pre-existing tensions within a jittery party.
The coming-together of the Reform/Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives was never more than a marriage of convenience. Now the Tory wing of Harper’s reconstituted party is reasserting itself.
Brian Mulroney — a predecessor that the prime minister declared persona non grata over his dealings with lobbyist Karlheinz Shreiber a few years ago — is back on the Conservative celebrity speaking circuit.
Last week droves of Conservative aides, MPs and ministers came out to hear Mulroney deliver a keynote speech on energy policy. They gave him two standing ovations. Ministers John Baird and Peter MacKay respectively introduced and thanked the former prime minister.
In Harper’s own Calgary backyard last weekend, Conservative members removed loyalist Rob Anders — a six-term backbencher — as their 2015 candidate for the riding of Signal Hill.
They selected former Alberta minister Ron Liepert in defiance of the recommendation of Jason Kenney, the jobs minister, who doubles as Harper’s most influential Alberta cabinet member.
Former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe once compared leading his party to a devastating defeat in 2011 to being trapped on an elevator in free fall. It is time to put a safety warning on the door of Harper 2015 re-election ride.
Then the mother of all civil wars then the Blue Tories and the Red Tories will battle for the leadership of the Conservative Party.