Will 2013 be remembered as the beginning of the end of Stephen Harper's Conservative government?
Or will it mark the low point from which he mounts a comeback?
It is becoming increasingly difficult to envision the latter scenario, in part because even some Tory MPs are openly — if anonymously — talking about a future without Harper as party leader.
The near-miss in Brandon-Souris, the kind of riding where the only real battle is usually for the Conservative nomination, rattled nerves and put some Tory MPs on notice that no riding can be considered completely safe.
The polls have gone from bad to worse for Harper, as his government plumbs the depths of its time in power. Never before has support for the Conservatives dropped so low for so long since they defeated Paul Martin in the 2006 election.
Challenges by Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, who both led Liberals into first place in the polls for a few months at a time, were easily swept aside in the past. However, Conservatives have been unable to put a dent into the lead Justin Trudeau has built and maintained. And this in a world where New Democrats routinely poll in the mid-20s.
The Senate scandal is undoubtedly the main source of the problems hobbling the prime minister, but it is not the only one. Conservatives have tried very hard to cultivate an image as serious and responsible fiscal managers, but another image is being created as the years in power start to drag on.
That image is one of entitlement, something that contributed to Liberal defeats in the past and the hollowing-out of that party culminating in the 2011 election.
Issues related to election finances led to the resignation and byelection defeat of Peter Penashue earlier this year and the pending legal case facing Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro. Millions of dollars have been spent on advertising touting the government's achievements. An apparent double-standard related to the hue and cry over Trudeau's infrequent pot-smoking and the relative silence over Rob Ford's crack-smoking (etc.) has instilled the perception that a different set of rules applies to Conservatives.
The Senate scandal played right into this building narrative. The refusal of the government to admit any error and to shift the blame entirely on to Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy alone has done lasting damage to the Tory brand and particularly that of the prime minister.
Hope that their achievements in office, and not their behaviour, would prevail in public opinion seem dashed. The free trade agreement with the European Union is the sort of thing that should be right in the Tories' wheelhouse and is a legacy-level accomplishment for Harper. Instead, it has gotten little notice and the Conservatives' poll numbers continue to erode.
Worse, with the Senate scandal in the hands of RCMP investigators, Harper has no control over how events will unfold going forward.
Undoubtedly, this is contributing to the malaise within the Conservative caucus that is becoming increasingly apparent. The departure of Brent Rathgeber from caucus in June was the first salvo, which was followed by the sort of anonymous expressions of worry from MPs to the parliamentary press gallery that used to plague the Liberal Party.
Jason Kenney has subtly separated himself from the government's messaging on certain issues, particularly related to Ford and Wright. The recent spat between Kenney and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty over the employment minister's comments about the Toronto mayor may have been personally motivated, but it certainly does not dispel any notion that there is tension within caucus.
And the proposal by Conservative MP Michael Chong to give more power to a party's caucus and less to the leader seemed unthinkable a year ago.
Where will things go from here? Will the Conservative government continue to limp along until it is defeated in 2015? Or will the prime minister regain control of the situation and put his party back on track to re-election?
This past year blasted a hole below the waterline in the Conservative ship of state. If it isn't plugged soon, it will sink them.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.
Also on HuffPost:
Sen. Mike Duffy shields his eyes as he arrives at the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013.
Justin Trudeau delivers his victory speech in the Federal Liberal leadership in Ottawa on Sunday, April 14, 2013.
Canadian Astronaut and ISS commander Chris Hadfield is framed by spacesuits as he performs David Bowie's Space Oddity on the International Space Station, published on Sunday May 12, 2013.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks past a projector following a Chinese New Years event in Burnaby, B.C., Friday, February, 8, 2013.
Stompin' Tom Connors' hat lies on his casket at the Stompin' Tom Connors memorial in Peterborough, Ontario on Wednesday March 13, 2013.
Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Que, Saturday, July 6, 2013. Crude oil moved along Canadian railway lines in unprecedented volumes in 2013 as delays in building new pipelines caused oil companies, clamouring to reach the most lucrative markets, to seek out alternative paths. The crude-by-rail trend had been gathering steam quietly in recent years. But after the disaster in Lac Megantic, Que., it could no longer fly under the radar.
Calgarians look out over a flooded Calgary Stampede grounds and Saddledome in Calgary, Alta., Friday, June 21, 2013.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford addresses the media outside office in Toronto on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. Ford was responding to a new video that was released.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi celebrates his re-election as mayor at his campaign party in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Oct. 21, 2013.
Kevan Yeats swims after his cat Momo to safety in High River, Alta. on June 20, 2013. Momo the cat has been living a quiet life since gaining global celebrity status when he leapt from a submerged pickup truck and swam for his life in floodwaters that hit southern Alberta last June.
Ottawa Senators team captain Daniel Alfredsson acknowledges two young fans who show their appreciation for his team coming back after the 119 day NHL hockey strike ended during training camp in Ottawa on Sunday, January 13, 2013.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut on Tuesday, August 20, 2013.
A woman holds a photo as several hundred people attend a community vigil to remember Rehtaeh Parsons at Victoria Park in Halifax on Thursday, April 11, 2013. The girl's family says she ended her own life following months of bullying after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by four boys and a photo of the incident was distributed.
Senator Patrick Brazeau is escorted out the Parliament Buildings after he was suspended by from duties by the Senate in Ottawa Tuesday February 12, 2013 .
Photographs and flowers are placed at a memorial for Canadian actor Cory Monteith outside the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday July 16, 2013. Monteith's body was found in a room at the hotel Saturday.
A person watches a shark swim above during the grand opening of the Ripley's Aquarium of Canada in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013.
Rita MacNeil's ashes rest in a teapot at her funeral at St. Mary's Church in Big Pond, N. S. on Monday, April 22, 2013. The 68-year-old singer died in hospital in Sydney, Nova Scotia, following complications from surgery after a recurring infection.
Rogers' CEO Nadir Mohamed (left) shares a joke with NHL Commissioner Gary Betman following a news conference in Toronto on Tuesday 26, 2013 as they announced a long term broadcast and multimedia agreement, which provides Rogers with all national rights. Also announced was a multi-year sub-licensing agreement with CBC and TVA sports for the NHL games.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau poses with two yoga enthusiasts after holding a press conference on the front lawn of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday June 5, 2013. A yoga class is held on Wednesdays throughout the summer on Parliament Hill.
Sen. Pamela Wallin is surrounded by security as she arrives at the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday Oct.24, 2013.
Mourners react outside the funeral for 18-year-old Sammy Yatim in Toronto, Thursday, Aug.1, 2013. Yatim died Saturday morning after receiving multiple gunshot wounds during an "interaction" with police.
Father Maurice Frenette conducts mass at the funeral for Noah and Connor Barthe at St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church in Campbellton, N.B. on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013. The two young boys were killed by a python while they slept in an apartment above an exotic pet store earlier in the week.
A small tip of the Lions Gate Bridge sticks out of the fog rolling into Vancouver harbour late Thursday night, Oct. 24, 2013. A weather system has brought heavy fog into Vancouver and the lower mainland for more than a week.
A woman gets back into her flooded car on the Toronto Indy course on Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto on Monday, July 8 2013.
Philippe Couillard celebrates after being elected as new leader of the PLQ in Montreal, Sunday, March 17, 2013.
Most Read Stories Of 2013
A look at the most read stories on HuffPost Canada in 2013.
1. Hollie McNish, Poet Shamed By Breastfeeding In Public, Has The Last Word
"I hate that breasts have become so sexualized that they have lost their original purpose in the public mind. It is acceptable to wear bikinis that cover less, but taboo to feed your child. Overall opinion is that you are less of a mother if you bottle feed, but they won't let you do it in public. Is this just another way to shame us back into roles that were relevant 50 years ago?" <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/05/hollie-mcnish-breastfeeding_n_3552062.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a> (AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis)
2. Chris Farley 'Plays' Rob Ford In Fake Movie Trailer
Let's face it. The late comedian Chris Farley was the perfect person to play Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. This movie trailer, which features clips from many of Farley's movies, is probably the closest thing we'll ever get to an actual Rob Ford movie. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/11/21/chris-farley-rob-ford-movie_n_4319144.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a>
3. Rob Ford Rant Leaves Daily Show's Stewart Howling WHAT?!?
Jon Stewart devoted more than six minutes to the Toronto mayor Thursday night, ending with utter disbelief at Ford's oral-sex-related rant. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/11/15/daily-show-rob-ford-video_n_4280983.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a> (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)
4. David Suzuki's Fukushima Warning Is Dire And Scary
"Three out of the four plants were destroyed in the earthquake and in the tsunami. The fourth one has been so badly damaged that the fear is, if there's another earthquake of a seven or above that, that building will go and then all hell breaks loose." <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/11/04/david-suzuki-fukushima-warning_n_4213061.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a> (AP Photo/Tomohiro Ohsumi, File)
5. Danny Brown Receives Oral Sex From Fan On Stage, Keeps Rapping
Fans attending rapper Danny Brown's concert Friday night in Minneapolis got a bit more than they probably bargained for when a female fan appeared to give the musician oral sex while he was on stage. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/04/30/danny-brown-oral-sex_n_3185192.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a> (Photo by C Brandon/Redferns via Getty Images)
6. Brett Wilson White Poppy: Former Dragon Defends The Red Poppy
As discussion in Canada swirled around the virtues of the white poppy this Remembrance Day, Calgary millionaire and former dragon in CBC's Dragon's Den, W. Brett Wilson took to Twitter to defend the red poppy and its significance. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/11/08/brett-wilson-white-poppy_n_4243009.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a>
7. Nohmul Pyramid Bulldozed In Belize For Rocks
"It's a feeling of incredible disbelief because of the ignorance and the insensitivity ... they were using this for road fill. It's like being punched in the stomach, it's just so horrendous.'' <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/05/13/mayan-pyramid-belize_n_3268255.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a> (AP Photo/Jaime Awe)
8. Chip Wilson, Lululemon Founder: ‘Some Women's Bodies' Not Right For Our Pants
“The thing is that women will wear seatbelts that don’t work [with the pants], or they’ll wear a purse that doesn’t work, or quite frankly some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it.” <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/11/06/lululemon-chip-wilson-womens-bodies_n_4228113.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a> (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
9. Woman Pointing Gun At Child's Head Photo Sparks Outrage, International Search
"I was sent this picture today by a friend who was very distressed to see it on her page. It apparently was posted to see if anybody could find the girl and if they cared well we do care and we have to find this baby as this scares the hell out of me." <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/09/11/woman-pointing-gun-child-photo_n_3906514.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a>
10. Tim Hortons Lids Letter Voices A Nation's Pain
An early morning, a rush to get to the car, a long wait in a drive-thru line for precious caffeine, and then it happens. Disaster strikes. A lid fails, the coffee will not hold. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/14/tim-hortons-lids-letter-photo_n_3757416.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL POST</a>
11. Reasons The Rest Of Canada Should Be Super Jealous Of Alberta
Alberta voted in new municipal governments Monday and the two big winners were young, forward-thinking mayors. Naheed Nenshi and Don Iveson are just a couple of the reasons why the rest of Canada should be super jealous of Alberta. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/10/22/calgary-election-edmonton-alberta-2013_n_4142715.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a>
12. 'How To Be A Vancouverite' Shows Why People Make Fun Of B.C.
The rest of Canada has long been convinced B.C. is filled with outdoor-enthusiast health nuts who do nothing but complain about rain and real estate. Now there is proof. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/09/18/how-to-be-a-vancouverite-video_n_3949737.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a> (Photo By David Hecker/Getty Images)
13. Paul Hellyer, Ex-Defence Minister, Believes In Aliens
Canada's former minister of National Defence Paul Hellyer testified at the Citizen Hearing On Disclosure (CHD) last month in Washington D.C. that aliens are living among us and that it is likely at least two of them are working with the U.S. government. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/05/paul-hellyer-aliens-ufos-video_n_3390295.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a>
14. Canadian Kids Smoke Most Marijuana In Western World: UNICEF
A new survey from UNICEF has found that more Canadian kids smoke marijuana than anywhere else in the western world. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/04/11/canada-kids-marijuana-unicef_n_3062739.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a> (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
15. Turks And Caicos Next Canadian Province? Tory MP Pushes Plan
It may seem far-fetched, but Conservative MP Peter Goldring believes Turks and Caicos, an archipelago of 40 small islands stretching some 600 square kilometres, could one day become this nation’s 11th province. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/02/turks-and-caicos-canadian-province-goldring_n_3536143.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a>
Most Read Blogs Of 2013
Most Read Blogs Of 2013 A look at the most read blogs on HuffPost Canada in 2013.
Rehtaeh Parsons Was My Daughter
"Sometimes her heart was too big, sometimes it scared me. They say parents need to teach their children. Instead, it was Rehtaeh who was my teacher. My precious gift. She was the absolute best part of my life." — Glen Canning <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/glen-canning/rehtaeh-parsons-was-my-daughter_b_3056888.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL POST</a>
What Miley Cyrus Did Was Disgusting -- But Not For the Reasons You Think
"What Miley is doing is cultural appropriation. She, a wealthy white woman, is taking elements from black culture in order to achieve a specific image. Her status as a member of a traditionally oppressive race and class means that she is able to pick and choose what parts of black culture she wants to embrace without having to deal with the racism and racialization that black women live with every day." — Anne Theriault <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/anne-theriault-/miley-cyrus-vma-performance_b_3819177.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL POST</a>
Why "Sex-Positive" Feminism Is Negative For Me
9 Things Every Woman Should Know About Menstruation
"Unfortunately, most of us don't know about the intricacies of our cycle and how to really capitalize on these strengths because from the time we hit puberty we're given very little information about it. Why? Because there is a long-standing and deeply-rooted taboo around the subject of menstruation." — Anea Bogue <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/anea-bogue/women-menstruation-_b_3957384.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL POST</a>
American Cops Don't Belong in Canada
"I don't believe Canadians want American police operating and carrying guns in Canada. It's just not right." — Sean Casey, MP <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/sean-casey/border-security-canada_b_3691387.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL POST</a>
It's 2013, and Women Are Still Their Breasts
"It's tiring (and insulting) to watch video after video of fully-clad men sing, while naked and semi-naked ornamental women gyrate sexily around them. Like decorations. Like baubles. Like the tinsel on a tree...." — Toula Foscolos <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/toula-foscolos/justin-timberlake-tunnel-vision_b_3550440.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL POST</a>
The Slow and Painful Death of Freedom in Canada
"Of course we've all had the rhetoric jammed down our throats -- these adjustments to a citizen's right to public assembly, defiant anonymity, and digital privacy are the necessary sacrifices we must be willing to make in order to shelter ourselves from half-heartedly articulated illusory threats such as "terrorism" or "extremism". — <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/adam-kingsmith/canada-freedom-of-press_b_2946418.html" target="_blank">Adam Kingsmith </a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/adam-kingsmith/canada-freedom-of-press_b_2946418.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL POST</a>