Commentary by Norman Hillmer

Stephen Harper became leader of the Canadian Alliance and of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in 2002. Aloof, and cerebral, the pundits agreed that he was no threat to the well-entrenched Liberals. "A media chorus," recalls biographer William Johnson, "wrote him off."

It’s an advantage to be underestimated. Harper quietly began a methodical march to the prime minister’s office.

The first step was to engineer a merger of his Alliance party with the Progressive Conservatives – “uniting the right,” as it was known. This Harper did with fierce determination, compromising whenever compromise was necessary. Next he captured the leadership of the new Conservative Party.

In the election of mid-2004, Harper fought and lost his first campaign as a national leader. Acknowledging his own and his party’s fatal mistakes, he systematically learned from each of them.

When another election was called, Stephen Harper was ready. Even better, his opponents didn’t realize it.