If his party failed to achieve a majority in the election toward which Canada seems propelled - if the Conservatives were unable to increase their seat count, or even if they lost a few - politics watchers say Mr. Harper could hang on to his party's top job.
Mr. Harper's leadership will remain unchallenged even if the party does not gain ground "as long as the Conservatives continue to form the government," said Tom Flanagan, a University of Calgary political science professor who is a close friend and former campaign chief of Mr. Harper's.
Harper's biggest asset, he has created an atmosphere where he is clearly the central figure, in a sense he is the Conservative Party (see website). A concerted effort to centralize control, none of the surrogates given much latitude. There is no sense of any heir apparent in the Conservative ranks, Harper has ensured that everything flows from his office, others are left to parrot.
With all that said, I'm still not sure I buy the argument that Harper is safe, should he maintain, or even lose a few seats in the next election. The looming election will be Harper's third as a leader, which means that Canadians know him well, plenty of time to form concrete opinions. Should the Conservatives fail to expand, cling to another fragile minority, it seems reasonable for people to start wondering if Harper is the right person.
The article also mentions Dion, with some caveat that should the Liberals gain more seats, he may hold his position. I'm not buying that for a second, anything less than victory, Dion is quickly removed, there are just too many doubters waiting in the weeds. Conservatives are unanimous in their belief that Dion is an exceptionally weak leader, which should translate into questioning, should Harper fail to capitalize. It's hard to see Harper remain strong, should he not benefit from the perceived advantage over Dion, if he were to lose seats, a fairly negative verdict.
I don't see a scenario where a sitting PM is ousted, but to say Harper would carry on, business as usual, should he fail to gain seats or maintain, seems a simplistic view. I would imagine some frustration, and the beginnings of a whisper campaign to establish a successor. Harper's iron clad hold on the party would be erased, he would lack the authority to squelch any dissent. Three tries, the last against a perceived gift in Dion, and no progress, maybe a minor setback- doesn't sound like the stuff of firm hold from here. Safe, but weakened.