CALGARY—When he traveled north in August, Stephen Harper answered a question which had become a topic of much speculation in Ottawa.
Of course he is running again in 2015, the prime minister assured reporters.
“I’m actually disappointed you feel the need to ask that question,’’ he said.
Harper could hardly have answered any other way, but at the risk of disappointing him again, the question was certainly being asked here during the Conservative convention.
One can make a case that things can fall into place for the Conservatives and the Ottawa press gallery will be back here in two years to see Harper celebrating another “strong, stable, Conservative majority.’’
Harper could tout a balanced budget, a Canada-European Union trade deal, a Senate scandal in the rear view mirror, a victory in his ongoing pipeline battles and some goodies for a middle class looking nervously at Tom Mulcair or Justin Trudeau.
The party is financially healthy going forward.
But first Harper, over the next year, will have to face what could be called his 10 per cent conundrum.
His base is not abandoning him, but he needs to be in a position to grab back that 10 per cent or more that could deliver him another majority, kill off any Liberal pretentions as a national governing party and consolidate his fundamental conservative shift in Canada.
It is going to be a tough year for the prime minister to bring that crucial segment of the electorate back to him, and if that majority appears elusive, Harper could rethink his future.
There were delegates here who swear they are sure Harper will still be leading this country in 2017, when we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
But there just as many here who were keeping an eye on the omnipresent Jason Kenney, the employment minister who appears to be building a huge lead in an undeclared race for the post-Harper Conservative leadership.
It was no accident that Kenney defended Nigel Wright a day after Harper had badly tarnished his former chief of staff’s reputation, and it was no accident that Kenney was on the Sunday political talk shows, front-and-centre at the hospitality suites and informal pub gatherings all weekend.
The convention may have held to the status quo for the next leadership vote, giving all ridings equal weight in selecting the next leader, but Kenney no longer even had to worry about spending any political capital to fight rules that were once thought to hamper a leadership bid payday loans guaranteed no fax.
But there were others making sure they had a profile here this weekend.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has never been thought to have designs on the future leadership, but some of his allies are now saying that may not necessarily be the case.
Baird introduced the prime minister before Harper’s nationally televised speech Friday.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay also offered a defence of Wright, minister of state Maxime Bernier called for a national referendum on the abolition of the Senate and said he has strong support from delegates.
Former Harper minister Jim Prentice hosted a hospitality suite here, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s name was bandied about by delegates and Industry Minister James Moore, a more progressive possibility, was dismissing any talk of Harper’s future as the domain of those who speculate, gossip and trade in rumour.
The prime minister is facing tougher opposition in the Commons from Mulcair than he has ever before faced.
He is clearly fixated on Trudeau who will represent the most serious Liberal threat to Harper since he became prime minister.
This convention also signaled that social conservatives within Harper’s caucus have significant grassroots support and the prime minister will likely face another internal fight on the abortion question.
The two main opposition parties are still looking at Harper as their opponent in 2015 but strategists will also say whether or not the prime minister tosses the baton, it will be the Harper record that they will target.
The calendar is working against Harper and his longevity will become an issue going forward. He will be marking eight years in office in January, and if he runs again he will be asking for four more years after nearly a decade as prime minister.
Speculation about his future will simply be a byproduct of that longevity for the next year as Harper seeks to rebuild trust with that crucial 10 per cent.