It was not quite a hero's sendoff.
But for Stephen Harper, the day in which he relinquished control of the party he had co-founded and led virtually since its inception had to qualify as a modest success – if only because it could have gone a whole lot worse.
In the 2 1/2 weeks after he lost his bid for a fourth term as prime minister, allies of Mr. Harper made clear that when it comes to his legacy, little is more important to him than being seen as the first Conservative prime minister since John A. MacDonald to hand over a united party well-positioned to compete for power again soon.
In the election's immediate aftermath, amid anger about a lacklustre campaign mired in behind-the-scenes dysfunction, this image appeared to be in some peril. By Thursday, that anger had subsided somewhat. But two events – the Conservatives' first caucus meeting since losing power, and a speech a few hours later in Toronto by Brian Mulroney – threatened to reignite it.
At the former, a post-mortem session involving both re-elected and defeated MPs could have turned ugly; heretofore subservient caucus members could have felt empowered to take on Mr. Harper directly. The selection of a temporary replacement for him from among eight aspirants, and assorted procedural wrangling, could have revealed tensions and splits more easily kept under wraps when the party was in power.
None of that seems to have happened. Mr. Harper's apparently gracious final address as leader before leaving the room – combined with advance promises by sympathetic party officials to conduct full reviews of what went wrong with the campaign – lowered the temperature, and the subsequent discussion is said to have gone fairly smoothly. And while there are a few whispers that newly elected interim leader Rona Ambrose is an ally of Jason Kenney, a prospective front-runner to lead the Conservatives in the long run, she is not a polarizing figure. Nor is she likely to alienate much of the party faithful or the general public during her time at the helm.
Any good vibes out of that afternoon session, though, could have been quickly forgotten by the end of the evening. Mr. Mulroney, the only other significant Conservative prime minister of the past half-century, is known to have considerable differences with Mr. Harper. And there were rumours that he would use his speech to the Albany Club – an institution far more sympathetic to his Red Toryism than to Mr. Harper's populism – to launch an attack on the way the Conservatives had recently governed and campaigned.
But after an inevitable run through some of his favourite quasi-self-deprecating anecdotes (and a rather windy introduction by Peter MacKay that at points felt like he was positioning himself for a leadership run of his own), Mr. Mulroney pulled his punches. His text was noticeably light on any praise for Mr. Harper, other than for his role in uniting the right before he took office. But while his call for the pursuit of bold policy goals sounded somewhat at odds with Mr. Harper's skepticism about the role of government, he explicitly discouraged Conservative civil war as he made the case for a big-tent party.
"This is a time to heal old wounds," Mr. Mulroney said, "not settle old scores."
Mr. Harper and his acolytes would argue that the old wounds don't even need that much healing any more. Others might suggest that, courtesy of what became toxic relationships between Mr. Harper's campaign director and other members of the Conservative elite, there are new ones to be mended.
But compared with the ideological or regional divides that plagued the Canadian right through the 20th century, those recent wounds aren't terribly deep.
Mr. Harper leaves his successors with 99 seats, and nearly a third of the electorate solidly in its camp – and perhaps even something approaching a calm reaction to a disappointing defeat. Many parties, particularly on his side of the spectrum, have been handed over in much worse shape.