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Will Harper resign if defeated? He 'won't take the bite on that one'

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen wave before boarding their campaign plane in Yellowknife on April 18, 2011.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Win or lose, Stephen Harper doesn't plan on going anywhere soon.

But political reality suggests otherwise.

The Conservative Leader has been campaigning relentlessly in search of a majority government when voters go to the polls May 2. He warns at every opportunity that another minority Parliament will bring the Liberals to power with the collusion of the NDP and Bloc Québécois.

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But if indeed that is the result, and Mr. Harper finds himself once again on the wrong side of the House of Commons, would he stay on? At a campaign event Tuesday in the Northern Ontario city of Thunder Bay, a reporter asked Mr. Harper about his future if he is forced out of office.

"You know I'm not going to take the bite on that one," Mr. Harper smiled wearily. (He was visibly more tired today than usual, which could account for the mixing of metaphors.)

Serving as leader of the party has been "the experience of my life," he went on, even if "yeah, occasionally you complain about some things."

There were few countries in the world, even few democratic countries, "where a person from my background - genuine, middle-class background - could be entrusted with this kind of responsibility," he added, and "I'm very thankful for it."

But if the Conservatives were consigned to opposition, the pressure on Mr. Harper to step down would be enormous. And Mr. Harper himself would no doubt want to move on after seven years as Conservative Leader, five-and-a-half of them as Prime Minister.

This is strange territory for speculation, with Conservatives well ahead in the polls and almost certainly destined to win, at the least, more seats than the Liberals.

But Mr. Harper appears to genuinely believe that he has little hope of staying on as Prime Minister unless he wins a majority.

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"If the people of Canada were to give our government another minority mandate, we'd be honoured to accept it," he responded, when asked why he didn't believe another Conservative minority government was possible.

But "I don't think that's in the cards. I think if we win a minority, all the signals are clear the other three parties are going to get together in some form" to replace the Conservatives, he said.

Voters need to understand this, he said. "I don't want Canadians to wake up and find they ended up with something very different than what they thought they were voting for."

Many analysts would argue that, whatever the rhetoric, the opposition might well let another minority Conservative government govern.

But it's not a possibility that Mr. Harper wants Canadians to contemplate.

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