Could history remember Stephen Harper as the last and only modern leader of a strong, united Conservative Party?

Everybody likes a winner. As Harper's Conservatives improved their performance in every election from 2004 and finally won a majority government in 2011, there was little dissent in the ranks.

The move to unite the right which culminated in the merger of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties in 2003 proved its worth as the Liberals were first reduced to a minority government, then to the opposition benches, and then almost to oblivion.

But as Tories take a dive in the polls and the chances of re-election in 2015 — especially with another majority — grow dimmer, the cracks are beginning to show. The latest comes in the form of a nomination challenge to Calgary MP Rob Anders by a group of more centrist Conservatives.

Anders is a good example of the cleavages that still exist within the conservative coalition. A supporter of Alberta's Wildrose Party, Anders comes from the right-wing of the party in a province that has, in the past few years, seen its centre-right split between Danielle Smith's Wildrose and Premier Alison Redford's Progressive Conservatives. As long as the rift is contained to Alberta, where there is no risk of anybody but a conservative of some stripe winning, the party can let off a little steam.

It is highly unlikely Harper will not contest the next election. But if he loses the next vote, it seems likely he will step down. The resulting leadership race would have the potential to push the rift onto the national stage and turn those cracks into chasms between the two wings of the party.

Nobody likes a loser. When Republicans were struggling from the midterms in 2006 to the presidential defeat in 2008, and again after the 2012 loss, the party nearly tore itself apart. Some thought the GOP had to move towards the centre to win again, others that the party had not become conservative enough and the Tea Party was born.

If Conservatives lose the next election, and particularly if they lose badly, members will ask themselves what went wrong and how to fix it. Some will undoubtedly argue the party got away from its Reform/Canadian Alliance grassroots and became entitled in power. Others will argue the party swung too far to the right and that a move back to the centre would make them more competitive against the centrist Liberals.

As the next leadership race will give equal weight to each riding association in the country, the preponderance of members in Western Canada will not give any advantage to candidates coming out of the old Alliance wing of the party (except in fundraising, of course).

A Red Tory candidate could find a base of support in Quebec, Atlantic Canada, and the urban areas of the country — enough to potentially win. Such a victory could split the party if the old Alliance base fails to see themselves in the new softer version of the Conservative Party. And vice-versa: Red Tories may not accept a swing to the right if they see in that the cause of the last electoral defeat.

Is this likely? Perhaps not. Many members of the party will surely realize the risk a candidate from either wing might pose to Conservative unity, and instead choose someone in the centre.

But there is far more precedent for a return to a divided right than there is for a merger of the centre-left, which has garnered much more ink in the last few years.

Certainly, the old Alliance and PC wings of the party are not as far apart now as the Liberals and New Democrats. The odds are that things will stay that way.

But a defeat in the next election may be far more disruptive than a simple change in government.

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.

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  • Rob Anders, Calgary West

    First elected: 1997

  • Jason Kenney, Calgary Southeast

    First elected: 1997

  • Deepak Obhrai, Calgary East

    First elected: 1997

  • Diane Ablonczy, Calgary-Nose Hill

    First elected: 1997

  • Dick Harris, Prince George-Bulkley Valley

    First elected: 1993

  • Garry Breitkreuz, Yorkton-Melville

    First elected: 1993

  • Gerry Ritz, Battlefords-Lloydminster

    First elected: 1997

  • Peter Goldring, Edmonton East

    First elected: 1997

  • John Duncan, Vancouver Island North

    First elected: 1993

  • Leon Benoit, Vegreville-Wainwright

    First elected: 1993

  • Maurice Vellacott, Saskatoon-Wanuskewin

    First elected: 1997

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    Said the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/29/darrell-dexter-marijuana-pot_n_3837009.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-politics" target="_blank">former premier of Nova Scotia</a>: "Like every other person I knew back in the '70s when I went to university, some of whom are actually in this room, I would have tried it, the same as other people at that time."

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    Said the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/01/christy-clark-marijuana-use-pot_n_1469321.html" target="_blank">premier of British Columbia</a>: "I graduated from Burnaby South Senior Secondary in 1983 and there was a lot of that going on when I was in high school and I didn't avoid it all together."

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    The former prime minister of Canada <a href="http://www.ctvnews.ca/" target="_blank">told CTV News</a>: "The answer is: I never smoked. I never smoked anything, but there was an earlier time, years ago, when (my wife) made some brownies and they did have a strange taste."

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    The rapper's 18-year-old son, Corde Calvin Broadus, caused a stir when he <a href="http://www.digitalspy.com/celebrity/i435058-16/twitterinstagram-pics-of-2012-snoop-dogg-and-son-corde-calvin-broadus.html">shared this photo of him</a> smoking with his famous weed-loving dad.

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    Is that smoke, or a new Instagram filter? Soulja Boy<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/03/soulja-boy-wiz-khalifa-smoke-up-photo_n_2402221.html"> tweeted a photo </a>of what appears to be him and pal Wiz Khalifa smoking out a giant bong on Jan. 3.

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  • Kristen Stewart

    <a href="http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2012/06/kristen-stewart-responds-critics-shit-eaters-vanity-fair">In a 2012 Vanity Fair article</a>, Stewart addressed the photos taken of her smoking out of a pipe in 2008. "You can Google my name and one of the first things that comes up is images of me sitting on my front porch smoking a pipe with my ex-boyfriend and my dog," she said. "I was a kid. I had just turned 18. In [the tabloids] the next day it was like I was a delinquent slimy idiot, whereas I’m kind of a weirdo, creative Valley Girl who smokes pot. Big deal.”

  • Rihanna

    Dressing up as <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/02/rihanna-topless-singer-post-halloween-lok_n_2066153.html">"The Bride of Mary Jane"</a> (get it?) for Halloween wasn't enough. Rihanna shared this controversial picture at the start of the New Year, with the caption: "This nug look like a skull or am I just....?"

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  • Michael Phelps

    Yup. That's Olympic Gold medalist <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/swimming/news/story?id=3876804">Michael Phelps smoking out of a bong</a>, published in the now-defunct British rag News of the World in 2009.

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    Lady Gaga smoked a spliff onstage at a concert in -- duh -- Amsterdam. About marijuana, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/19/lady-gaga-weed-singer-wondrous-marijuana_n_1897486.html">she told the audience</a>: "I want you to know it has totally changed my life and I've really cut down on drinking. It has been a totally spiritual experience for me with my music."

  • Justin Bieber

    Last week, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/05/justin-bieber-smoking-pot-photos-emerge-teen-star-partying_n_2415401.html">photos emerged </a>of what appears to be Bieber smoking marijuana inside a Newport Beach hotel room on Jan. 2. "Everyday growing and learning. trying to be better. u get knocked down, u get up," Bieber tweeted not long after the reports trickled through. "Back on tour tomorrow. ready to see u all smile. time to do what im supposed to be doing. performing. #BELIEVEtour."

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  • Steve Jobs

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  • Bill Clinton

    President Bill Clinton famously admitted to trying marijuana while completing his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford. "When I was in England I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1992/03/30/us/the-1992-campaign-new-york-clinton-admits-experiment-with-marijuana-in-1960-s.html?gwh=B1648339901F9BBAADA0D9EC8C030343">The New York Times reported in 1992</a>. "I didn’t inhale it, and never tried it again.”

  • Richard Branson

    Virgin Group chairman and founder <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/06/opinion/branson-end-war-on-drugs">Richard Branson is an outspoken advocate of marijuana legilization</a>, once writing an op-ed for CNN that called for an end to the war on drugs. He reportedly asked <a href="http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0312/74111.html">President Obama during a White House visit if he could "have a spliff"</a> in 2012. "They didn't have any," he added.

  • Michael Bloomberg

    New York City Mayor and Bloomberg L.P. founder Michael Bloomberg found himself in hot water when he admitted to smoking marijuana back in 2002, The New York Times reports. When asked by a reporter if he had ever tried pot, he responded: <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/10/nyregion/bloomberg-says-he-regrets-marijuana-remarks.html">"You bet I did. And I enjoyed it."</a>

  • Hugh Hefner

    Playboy founder Hugh Hefner credits his use of marijuana later in life with changing his perspective on sex. "I didn't know what making love was all about for all those years," Hefner <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2010/11/23/hugh-hefner-talks-monogomy-miley-cyrus-marijuana/">who supports legalization</a> is quoted as saying in <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/High-In-America-Politics-Marijuana/dp/0670119903">High In America: The True Story Behind NORML</a></em>. <a href="http://www.druglibrary.org/special/anderson/highinamerica8.htm">"Smoking helped put me in touch with the realm of the senses."</a>

  • George Soros

    Billionaire investor George Soros is a known supporter of marijuana legalization and even wrote a 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed rather straight-forwardly entitled <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303467004575574450703567656.html">"Why I Support Legal Marijuana."</a> His <a href="http://www.aim.org/special-report/the-hidden-soros-agenda-drugs-money-the-media-and-political-power/">use of the drug may be far less proflific</a>, however. He told Reuters in 1997 that while he had "enjoyed" trying marijuana, <a href="http://www.mpp.org/outreach/top-50-marijuana-users-list.html">"it did not become a habit and I have not tasted it in many years."</a>

  • Jimmy Cayne

    Jimmy Cayne, former CEO of Bear Stearns, kept an<a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/wall-street-cocaine-stories-2012-7?op=1"> antacid bottle full of cocaine</a> in his desk, according to the book <a href="http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Sellout.html?id=Jq030Cp_SjQC">The Sellout</a>.

  • Sarah Palin

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  • Bill Gates

    Bill Gates, chairman and co-founder of Microsoft, hinted at once using LSD and marijuana in a <a href="http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~history/Bill.Gates.html">1994 interview with Playboy</a>. Likewise, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Gates-Microsofts-Reinvented-Industry-Himself/dp/0671880748">biographer Stephen Manes</a> wrote that "<a href="http://www.mpp.org/outreach/top-50-marijuana-users-list.html">Gates was certainly not unusual there</a> [around drugs]. Marijuana was the pharmaceutical of choice…”

  • Larry Kudlow

    Former Ronald Reagan economic adviser and current CNBC host Larry Kudlow is reported to have both smoked marijuana and <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2000/nov/29/workandcareers.madeleinebunting">used cocaine frequently</a> at periods in his life. After being fired from Bear Sterns in the mid-1990s, <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=bOQCAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA38&dq=kudlow+cocaine&ei=VCR0S9XdEpG2NJDq0bsE&cd=1#v=twopage&q&f=true">Kudlow entered a rehabilitation program to deal with his cocaine addiction</a>, according to New York Magazine.

  • Naomi Campbell

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  • Peter Lewis

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  • Arnold Schwarzenegger

    Former California Governor and all around legend Arnold Schwarzenegger can be seen smoking marijuana in the 1977 documentary "Pumping Iron." He later said that he <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-207_162-529462.html">"did smoke a joint and I did inhale,"</a> CBS News reports.