Stephen Harper's exit ranks as one of the most understated farewells in Canadian political history.
Mr. Harper left the stage on election night without acknowledging, even to supporters in Calgary, that he was quitting as Conservative leader. Two weeks later, when he went to Rideau Hall to resign as prime minister, there were no cameras to record his final act. Later that week, he slipped in a back entrance of Parliament to deliver brief departing remarks to a shrunken Tory caucus in private. Rona Ambrose, the interim leader, said Mr. Harper's speech was "incredibly passionate, emotional and touching," but like others in the room, she offered no specifics.
After leading the country for nearly a decade, Mr. Harper leaves the stage unseen, unheard and apparently unwanted.
So what's next for the former prime minister? At the age of 56, he is obviously too young to retire.
Mr. Harper, an avid hockey fan, might want to be the next National Hockey League commissioner. But the betting is that the now backbench MP will settle down in Calgary, taking a teaching post at his alma mater, the University of Calgary.
He may be worth more than he imagines if he jumps to the corporate world, according to headhunters. He could receive several times more than his $167,400 MP's salary, or the $334,800 he used to make as prime minister. He could join corporate boards ($75,000 to $300,000 a year per directorship), become senior adviser at a law firm or financial institution ($500,000 to $1-million-plus per year), give speeches ($20,000 per event), sell his memoirs (an advance of up to $200,000) or a combination of all of these.
His LinkedIn profile – if he had one – might highlight his track record as a proven leader, policy expert, author and executive of a $280-billion organization. It might also note his extensive international experience, vast network of contacts, intimate knowledge of government machinery and background in economics. Mr. Harper has helped to negotiate trade deals, chaired Group of Seven meetings and written a book on the origins of pro hockey in Canada.
"There are certainly lots of people with that kind of background who have gone on to successful board careers, or become senior advisers," said Rory Tyler, a partner at executive search firm Korn/Ferry International in Calgary. "Someone who understands the large geopolitical landscape would be valuable to a lot of companies."
Even at home, companies would covet Mr. Harper's talents, particularly in the energy sector, where many are struggling with issues of "social licence" and access to markets, Mr. Tyler said. "Not that Mr. Harper was a poster child for social licence, but he certainly understands the dynamics, the issues and the risks," he pointed out.
Becoming an academic would not prevent Mr. Harper from also joining corporate boards, said Jeff Rosin, president of Toronto-based Rosin Executive Search. Even in defeat, Mr. Harper's brand strength remains strong.
Another executive recruiter, who declined to be named, suggested that Mr. Harper is probably better suited for the ivory tower than the boardroom.
"Potentially boards, but there would have to be a very specific international character to it," the recruiter said of Mr. Harper's attractiveness to corporations. "[Former politicians] tend to travel better externally. I don't know how commercially oriented he is. A lot of people don't enjoy that environment."
Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien joined law firms, where they worked as advisers, helping open doors for companies in foreign markets.
Liberal Paul Martin opted for a very different post-politics career. After amassing considerable wealth as head of his family's shipping company, CSL Group Inc., he has devoted his time and resources to various social causes, becoming a passionate advocate for aboriginal education and entrepreneurship.
The most likely trailblazer for Mr. Harper may be Joe Clark (1979-1980), who has focused on lecturing and writing. He's been a scholar at various think tanks, including the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. He is now a professor at McGill University and a regular commentator on public policy.
Virtually all prime ministers leave under a cloud of defeat, fading popularity and often scandal. The lesson for Mr. Harper is that redemption awaits.