Regular readers of this space will know that in general, I am not a big fan of Stephen Harper and his party. My reasons for this are largely due to differences in basic philosophy about how this nation works (or should work).
Goodness knows, Stephen Harper has been more successful in accomplishing the gymnastic feat of inserting both feet into his mouth than his predecessors (and considering Stockwell Day's abysmal performance, that's saying something!)
Okay, Stephen takes truly awful pictures, and lord knows it's painfully obvious that he's about as uncomfortable before the media as I would be were I in his position. Having said that, he's also a smart man. Whatever else you say about him, he is obviously intelligent. Naive, perhaps, but intelligent. I think he's learning the hard way the exact same lessons that Preston Manning learned once he reached Ottawa. Coming from a single-party province like Alberta, the cut and thrust of politics in Ottawa is a rude awakening for leadership politicians from Alberta.
I believe that Harper is the best hope the CPC has for future electoral success. Why do I say this?
First, I think Mr. Harper is ultimately intelligent enough to be able to learn from his mistakes. Hopefully, when the House of Commons sits in the fall, we will see a much more refined Stephen Harper heading up Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. (If we don't, I'll consider retracting this entry...) After the very public bruising he took last term, I can only imagine that he will change his presentation and demeanor considerably.
Second, the CPC desperately needs to build some credibility outside of Alberta. The constant pattern of "eating their young" every time they lose an election, or things go "badly" for them in the latest sitting of parliament is disastrous. It suggests to voters that the party is internally deeply fractured, and that breeds mistrust. Yes, voters don't like the Liberals, and view them as corrupt, but the Liberals are seen as "the devil we know". Corrupt, yes, but known.
Third, it will take a couple of elections for the CPC to manage to start convincing voters (outside of Alberta) that they represent something comprehensible - and are more than simply a western protest party.
Lastly, the most rabid of Conservative supporters in Alberta are starting to turn towards Separatist/Firewall movements - frustrated mostly by the fact that they haven't "got their way" in Ottawa this past session of Parliament. (Boo hoo - if they'd learn to look past the end of their noses, they might start to figure out that politics is a lot more than Ralph Klein's idiot edicts - something the rest of the country seems to understand just fine)
Besides - in the meantime, Harper might just learn enough about how Ottawa works to actually advance his party's platform. Of course, in their frustration the most radical elements of the current CPC will slowly dissipate into the ether, returning the party to a moderate stance which will play reasonably well for much of Canada. The various radical elements in the current party just make voters uneasy. The ongoing paranoid fiction spun by the separatist/firewall elements will steadily find their way into political irrelevance. (Just as they did in the early 1980s when the Western Canada Concept and a few other "separatist" protest parties had a brief heyday.)