Straight Talk
WARREN KINSELLA - Long rule ahead for our hockey dad prime minister Stephen Harper

Conservative Party leader and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures to supporters at his federal election night headquarters in Calgary, AB, May 2, 2011.

Credits: Chris Wattie/REUTERS

WARREN KINSELLA | QMI AGENCY

Winning, in politics, isn't determined by besting one's opponent in just one contest. It's emerging victorious in the one that comes after that.

Almost anyone can win an election once, by fluke. But it's not so simple to win the second one.

That isn't easy at all.

Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien: Not many have been able to win in the next go-round, and win big at that.

It's an exclusive club. And so, in 2012, the undisputed winner on the federal political scene is Stephen Harper.

The pollsters tell us he is increasingly unloved, and he is, by all but his core. He remains as distant and as cold - and as unknowable - as he ever was.

He has broken faith on many of the things he once professed to hold dear: An elected Senate, accountability, frugality, smaller government, ethical standards.

But he's still there. He still dominates the federal scene, in a way that no one else has since Chretien.

Opposition leaders come and go - and, in 2015, Thomas Mulcair will switch titles with Justin Trudeau - but Harper remains on top.

He's going to win again in 2015. Harper won in 2006 - and again in 2008 and 2011 - because he has persuaded Canadians that he is more like them than the other guy. He is, he shrugs, just another Tim Hortons hockey dad with a paunch. Canada, he knows, is full of Tim Hortons hockey dads with paunches.

He was as much of an intellectual, an academic, as Stephane Dion or Michael Ignatieff. But his genius is his ability to get everyone to believe he isn't one.

Just a Canadian Everyman, with the same values and the same lexicon as everyone else. He fits the times, and that is part of the reason for his success, too.

In an era when the rest of the civilized world is teetering on the precipice of economic calamity - and when men in caves still possess the resolve to murder us all - Harper's plodding, boring style has an undeniable appeal. He doesn't know how to put out the fires that rage all around us. But he remembers where all the emergency exits are, and that is plenty.

We'll tire of him, eventually. We always do. Justin Trudeau's father was impossibly flamboyant and cosmopolitan, and he came along during Expo '67, the year in which we all aspired to be those things, too.

Mulroney was a specific response to Trudeau, and Chretien to Mulroney. Each one is never a continuation of what was there before. The winner is always a repudiation of what went before.

That's why - barring some unexpected disaster, or some sea change in Canadians' attitudes - Justin Trudeau will almost certainly be prime minister in 2019. (But not in 2015 - as long as progressives split their larger share of the vote, Harper will win with his smaller share).

Trudeau is the literal antithesis to Harper. Where one is mundane, the other is exciting. Where one seems older than his age, the other is the picture of youthful vigour. Where one is all about avoiding risk, the other is about taking them.

Thesis, antithesis: The synthesis is a few years away, but it is coming. Harper has created the winning conditions for another Trudeau.

For now, however - and until 2015, at least - the winner is the Tim Hortons hockey dad, Stephen Harper.

Luck has played no small role in it, as has timing. So too his political opponents, who persist in underestimating him every single time.

Mainly, however, Harper is a winner because he is still there.

He won, but then he won again, and again.

Vision? Charisma? Zeal? Those are the characteristics of men who start religions or wars.

Stephen Harper is a political survivor. That isn't much - but, in Canada in 2012, it has been more than enough.

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