BRANDON -- During the past several weeks, there has been a great deal of speculation among pundits that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not lead his Conservatives into the next federal election.
Some argue Harper is losing interest in the job he has held since 2006 and the Tories are mired in scandals that will only worsen in the coming year. Others say the polls look bad and suggest Harper would rather exit as PM than risk the prospect of having his career terminated by a humiliating loss to Justin Trudeau's Liberals.
Perhaps reflecting the extent to which the media's speculation about Harper's future has impacted public perception, a Forum Research poll released last week found one-fifth of voters believe Harper will resign before the next election. Only one-half believe the election will take place as scheduled (on Oct. 19, 2015) with Harper as Conservative leader.
Those perceptions exist despite the absence of any evidence Harper is contemplating resignation soon -- and plenty of evidence suggesting the opposite.
There is nothing in (the poll) numbers that should frighten Harper with the election still more than a year away
Let's start with the obvious. The PM only turned 55 three months ago and has no obvious health concerns that limit his ability to do his job. There is no job opening available to him that would represent an upgrade over his current position, nor are there any apparent issues that are tugging at him to leave politics to "spend more time with the family."
Though some are rumoured to have their eyes on the PM's job once he does move on -- MPs Jason Kenney and Peter MacKay, and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall top the list -- the reunited Conservative party is Harper's creation. It is difficult to identify a potential successor capable of holding the fractious factions within the party together as successfully as Harper has.
Unlike the infighting that occurred within Jean Chrétien's Liberal caucus, there is no evidence of a cabal within the Tory caucus that's plotting to replace Harper.
Kenney and MacKay are maintaining their customary high profiles, and will each likely contend for the leadership whenever Harper does decide to step down, but neither can be accused of scheming to unseat his boss.
A series of poll results indicate the Tories are trailing the Liberals nationally, and trailing badly in some regions of the country. That, the pundits assert, should cause Harper to reconsider whether he wants to fight an election he might lose.
The aforementioned Forum poll claimed the Liberals now lead the Conservatives by a 44 to 28 margin nationally, but an average of polls conducted in June indicated the race is much closer, with the Liberals holding just a 34 to 31 lead over the Tories nationally.
Earlier this week, Nanos Research announced Harper and Trudeau are tied as preferred prime minister, with each having the support of 30 per cent of voters. While the polling results certainly suggest the Tories have their work cut out for them to win another majority, there is nothing in those numbers that should frighten Harper with the election still more than a year away, let alone compel him to abandon 24 Sussex Drive.
A number of pundits have suggested fear of embarrassing evidence emerging from suspended senator Mike Duffy's criminal trial could also motivate Harper to resign, but there are several flaws in that theory.
First, it is unlikely Duffy's trial will take place until after the next election. Second, there will almost certainly be a ban on publication of evidence during the period before the trial does occur. Third, it is likely the Duffy scandal's impact has already been factored into the current poll results.
As Harper surveys the national political landscape, he may be concerned, but he has no reason to be terrified.
The Conservatives are still within striking distance in the polls, despite the past year's controversies. The party's bank account is stuffed with cash, while its riding associations are far wealthier, better organized and more experienced than the Liberals'.
The PM is widely lauded for his stands against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hamas, and his government is positioned to table a budget surplus with tax cuts next spring.
Don't believe the hype. Harper isn't going anywhere.
Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.