The 'secret weapon' behind Stephen Harper's success

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It's been six years since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

First aired on The Current (27/03/12)

On Thursday, the Stephen Harper-led federal Conservative party unveiled its first budget since winning a majority government in last May's election. It's been a slow but steady climb for Harper since taking the reins of the Canadian Alliance party in 2002 and then merging it with the Progressive Conservatives soon afterwards.

Macleans' political editor Paul Wells has been covering Parliamentary politics for nearly two decades, and has now compiled many of his columns and blog posts into a new e-book, The Harper Decade, that explores Harper's political ascent and how he did it.

"The first piece in the e-book in my endorsement of Harper as the leader of the new Conservative party in 2004," Wells told The Current during a recent interview. "It's very tongue-in-cheek. At that point, my record for endorsements was lousy. I had told New Democrats to select Bill Blaikie as their next leader and that didn't work. [The endorsement] was a lark, it was a light-hearted column because frankly who cared who the leader of the Conservative party was going to be? Paul Martin was the new Prime Minister and he was going to lead until the cows came home."

Wells said that Harper has consistently surprised analysts with his political skills and has proved to be a "far more formidable figure than his opponents would admit."

"I guess my shtick for most of the past decade has been understanding, or seeking to understand, why is it that Harper wins, even though millions of Canadians really don't like the guy. And how is it that he has managed to so solidly hold onto his chunk of the electorate and to slowly grow his voter support in an environment where an awful lot of people would really rather he stop being prime minister?"

Wells says one of the "secret weapons" Harper has in his arsenal is patience. And it's his patience that sometimes makes him "misunderstood" by Canadians, and even by Conservatives.

"If you're my age (46) or younger and are a Canadian Conservative, you grew up wishing that Canada had a Margaret Thatcher or a Ronald Regan ... he would sack the air traffic controllers and shut down the coal mine strikers and do that sort of bold thing. But Harper comes from Alberta. He [originally] comes from the suburbs of Toronto, but he's a late adapter, and he's got the zeal of a late adapter to Albertaism, which is Conservatism as a geologic force. And I've often said his manner is not revolution or even evolution, it's erosion. He simply sticks around until his opponents give up. And then he makes the little move that moves his agenda -- Canadian conservatism -- forward."