Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in the Calgary Stampede Parade Friday July 6, 2012.
Credits: AL CHAREST/QMI AGENCY
That Stephen Harper is the undisputed leader in Canadian politics - that he utterly dominates the landscape, in a way no one else does - is a fact. It is also a blessing and a curse for the Conservative Party of Canada.
It is a blessing in the sense that Harper, more than any other person, is responsible for all of his party's successes. It has been a long time in the making. About a decade ago, Harper commenced working on a three-step plan to transform Canada.
First, he brought together the warring factions of the right. He convinced Reformers and Progressive Conservatives that, unless they came together as a single conservative force, the Liberals would continue to beat them.
Second, Harper set to work on destroying the brand of the most successful political machine in western democracy, the Liberal party.
Harper knew his principal rival was, and remains, the Grits. Over a decade, Harper has methodically deconstructed the Liberals, to the point where the once Natural Governing Party is a rump in the House of Commons.
Finally, Harper has moved his party to the centre, and shed much of the racism and extremism that once was synonymous with the Reform Party. He now has the most ethnically diverse caucus in the House of Commons, and he has purged most of the rednecked mouth-breathers who dominated his caucus. Just a few weeks ago, he mercilessly put down a social conservative attempt to reopen the abortion debate.
His successes are myriad. So, too, his adversaries. Their corpses - Dion, Ignatieff, Rae and others - litter the political landscape.
Stephen Harper is a winner. So what will happen when the winner departs?
He will, eventually. He is not a wealthy man. He is not too old. Multiple corporate sinecures await, along with lucrative speaking engagements and honourary degrees. In private life, he will be held in high regard, and he will be rich beyond imagining.
Herein, the curse. His party will face annihilation when Harper departs. They will be destroyed.
Harper, you see, is not merely the face and voice of the Conservative Party of Canada - he IS the Conservative Party of Canada. Every win, every major achievement, can be traced back to him.
His cabinet, and his caucus, not so much. Like many prime ministers, Harper has not given much thought to succession. He has groomed no one. No prince (or princess) waits in the wings, waiting to assume the throne.
Jason Kenney, who barely disguises his ambition, is a joke. With his fondness for social conservativism and divisive policies, Kenney would fracture the Harper coalition of Reformers and PCs.
Peter MacKay, the only other putative heir apparent, is a better choice, but not by much. Where Kenney attracts Reformers and repels PCs, MacKay does the reverse. As a minister, he has adopted a big-spending, glamorous style that will not sit well with voters.
After those two, there is nothing. The Conservative party has invested so much in Harper, it has nothing left to invest in a successor.
The Conservative strength is, paradoxically, their weakness. Their dynasty started with Stephen Harper, and it will end with him.