It seems we've learned something new here at The Agenda. Write a speculation piece about Stephen Harper's departure, and you get a flood of reaction.
For what it's worth, I wasn't predicting Harper would retire from public life this summer. I merely offered a case as to why he might consider it. Much of the feedback I got personally suggested the notion that Harper would leave soon was ridiculous. Rather than potentially secure his legacy by leaving "on top" this summer, these folks insisted Harper would stay in office as long as he could.
"He'll try to challenge Mackenzie King for longest-serving prime minister ever," one said. (King became prime minister at age 47, and served 22 years -- the longest ever premiership in Commonwealth history. Harper was 46 when he first became prime minister. He's currently ninth on the all-time list at just over seven years as prime minister.)
The longest-serving prime minister in Canadian history: William Lyon Mackenzie King.
Here's some of the reaction we received to the original blog post:
- Not likely ... because he is such a control-freak, "uber-competitive" as you say, that it will be damn difficult to pry his hands off the reins of power. He likes it too much, to the detriment of our nation.
- Ridiculous article. The entire premise [Harper] will step down after 11 years or three terms because others have, is absurd. I'd look for him to be forced out due to contrary court cases, forced out by the power grabbers in his own party he's managed to keep under his thumb all this time, or (please let this be) the police show up and arrest him for fraud. Any of those things are more likely to pull him down early than any of the ridiculous reasons the author of this fluff presents. Mr. Harper loves power, he will not be willingly divorced from it.
- An interesting train of ideas. I'm not sure that he cares about beating St. Laurent, but he may care very much about beating Mulroney (only another couple of months at eight years, 281 days).
- Historically, Harper had set two clear goals for himself and the Conservative party: [1.] Destroy the Liberal Party of Canada; [2.] Reform the Senate. If he resigns in the summer of 2013, he is leaving the return to power of the Liberal Party as a very possible outcome in 2015. Current polls show that the Liberals under Trudeau would win power. Secondly, Harper will have accomplished nothing to reform the Senate. All he will have done is fill the Senate with Conservative hacks -- a big patronage "thank you" for the likes of Mike Duffy (former media hack), Doug Finley (former Conservative Party election strategist), Irving Gerstein (former Conservative Party fundraising chief), etc. In conclusion, if Harper quits in 2013, he will be going down in self-defeat, having accomplished nothing he set out to do when he entered politics.
- There are NO signs he is stepping down, and NO ONE in the Conservative Party wants him to. In fact, there is every sign he is going to continue through the next election and possibly the next after that. If you had researched the fundraising of the Conservatives, you would know ... Prime Minister Harper is a key to the organization. Quebecers are fickle, the rest of Canada is very cautious. It takes a long time to change the direction of a party. It took the Conservatives a decade of reorganizing after the disaster of [Kim] Campbell, she and the infighting in the ranks lost it more than Mulroney. The Liberals are on their way out unless they reorganize, Trudeau is the past, not the future, so they are likely toast. He is like a shot of morphine to the dying.
- Harper won't step down. His hubris won't let him and he loves power too much to just give it up.
- Quite logical, except I predict his retirement date to be a bit further off. A year ago I wrote: "In November 2014, after eight years as prime minister and 12 years as party leader, lagging in the polls behind Tom Mulcair, Stephen Harper (then 55) announces his resignation as Conservative Party leader. The party decides to choose a new leader in April 2015, six months before the election due October 19, 2015."
But perhaps he will retire while he's still ahead? Who are the contenders? Peter MacKay, John Baird, Tony Clement, Jean Charest, Jason Kenney, Lisa Raitt, Alison Redford, Maxime Bernier, Bernard Lord, Christian Paradis, James Moore, Jim Prentice?
Harper was sworn in as the 22nd prime minister on February 6, 2006. How long can he go?
Since I wrote that piece, the Toronto Star has weighed in with its own speculation piece by Tim Harper (no relation to the prime minister) about possible up-and-coming contenders. And my hunch is, you'll start to see more of these stories in the days ahead, because the reality is, Harper is running up against the traditional and typical leadership clock. Voters, cabinet ministers, backbenchers, and civil servants all start looking for a signal after a leader has had the job for a decade. Is he doubling down and staying, or getting ready to stage manage a smooth exit?
We'll keep watching ...