But their candidate thought otherwise, both then and when asked again in 1998 after Ms. Campbell’s successor, Jean Charest, stepped down. By then he had left politics to be deputy leader of the National Citizens’ Coalition, a conservative lobby group.
But to hard-core economic conservatives, the situation was pressing: After five years in the political wilderness, the federal party had rebounded to 20 seats, but then handed the reins back to their old Red Tory nemesis, Joe Clark. So, in January, 2000, both Mr. Long and Mr. Wright were in Ottawa for the birth of the Canadian Alliance – a bid by Reform to reinvent itself and reconcile with federal Tories to “unite the right.”
“We were all thinking about attractive candidates for the leadership of the new party,” Mr. Long recalls. “We needed somebody that everybody could gravitate toward.”
Finally, with the Alliance leadership of Stockwell Day under siege, the lobbying paid off and Mr. Harper had a change of heart, agreeing to throw his hat into the ring, with fundraising and recruitment assistance from Mr. Wright. He won on the first ballot.
The following year, Peter MacKay succeeded Mr. Clark as Tory leader and, despite having signed a promise not to do so, soon agreed to negotiate the long-awaited merger. Early in 2004, the reborn Conservative Party of Canada endorsed Mr. Harper as leader and, with the right finally united, he moved into 24 Sussex Drive less than two years later.
By then, the party had created Conservative Fund Canada to manage its money, and appointed three founding directors: People’s Jewellers magnate Irving Gerstein (now a senator), Giant Tiger discount chain founder Gordon Reid (father of Conservative MP Scott Reid) – and Nigel Wright.
As well, Mr. Harper’s old mentor, Preston Manning, had launched a conservative think tank in Calgary. Among its directors: Nigel Wright.
He later gave up both positions – just before moving into the PMO.
On most mornings, be it January or July, Stephen Harper’s right hand man wakes up at 4 a.m. and, before heading to the office, goes for a run – 20 kilometres through downtown Ottawa. People train months before attempting the gruelling half-marathon that Mr. Wright has been doing almost daily for decades.
On one hand, his job is utterly consuming – Sir John A. Macdonald famously warned an aide, “Remember, I shall require all of your time” – but for the 90 minutes the run takes, his time is his own.
However, the ritual says something more profound about him.
Clearly, his fitness level helps him withstand the rigours of a high burnout job that Derek Burney, chief aide to Brian Mulroney, recalls as exhilarating but more strenuous than “anything else I did in the public or private sector.”
“He’s a machine,” one Conservative cabinet minister says of Mr. Wright.
Sports psychologists who study marathoners might also note how much control it takes to run the way Mr. Wright does. Hard-core runners are known for their self-discipline and planning. But sports psychologist Peter Jensen says that running a half-marathon every day also suggests an “unbelievably strong” sense of control. “The people who are able to do this have phenomenal self-discipline – they are not in any way, shape or form impulsive,” explains Dr. Jensen, who teaches at the Queen’s University business school.
“Anything that he’s ever done that appeared impulsive, he planned.”
Since his arrival, much has been made of how Mr. Wright differs from his immediate predecessor, the peppery Guy Giorno. But the two are more alike than they may seem. Both, for example, are devout churchgoers.
A small photo of Pope John Paul II leans against the fax machine on the credenza in Mr. Wright’s office in the Langevin Block across from Parliament Hill. Karol Józef Wojtyła was a hero to many conservatives because he is widely credited with helping to end communist rule.
But the portrait is also a nod to Mr. Wright’s own faith. He is a member of the Anglo-Catholic movement, which asserts the Catholic identity of Anglicanism more than its Protestant roots. Its adherents want to celebrate older rituals and traditions (“smells and bells” to detractors), if not reunite with the Catholic Church.
After arriving from Toronto, where he served Saint Thomas’s as both a sub-deacon and a warden, Mr. Wright bought a high-end downtown condo for $710,000 and began attending St. Barnabas, billed as “the Anglo-Catholic Parish in the Diocese of Ottawa.” Rev. Stewart Murray, the parish priest, says lovers of tradition also cherish the right to debate such subjects as same-sex marriage. “They want to retain the freedom of conscience on things like that.”