Is Stephen Harper planning to step down?

Are Stephen Harper's days as Canada's prime minister numbered? Senior National Post political journalist John Ivison suggests there is evidence that Harper may be planning to step aside as early as next month.

Ivison — who is well-connected and not one to engage is rabble rousing just for the sake of it — is suggesting that Tories on the Christmas party circuit have been asking the question: 'will he or won't he step down?'

One [Conservative] said that Stephen Harper’s first ever trip to Israel was originally scheduled for March and was brought forward. Big decisions are being put off, the Conservative said, and there is open speculation that Mr. Harper will return [in January] from the Middle East in triumph and announce he plans to resign as Prime Minister before Parliament returns for the spring session.

People who know Mr. Harper say he has no desire to return to minority government, or worse, lose to a Trudeau. Yet the odds look extremely long on being returned as leader of another majority.

In the article — which can be read in full here — the prime minister's director of communications is quoted, denying the rumours and saying that Harper "remains focused on ensuring our government delivers on the priorities of Canadians."

Take that for what it's worth.

[ Related: Tory Senator David Braley steps down: More resignations to come? ]

You have to believe, according to political communications consultant Marcel Wieder, that there is some pressure mounting on the PM to step down over the ongoing senate expense scandal.

"Just as Harper derided then-Prime Minister Paul Martin into calling an inquiry into the sponsorship scandal, now Harper faces the same challenges from Mulcair and Trudeau," Wieder, president of Aurora Strategy Group, told Yahoo Canada News earlier this week.

"The Canadian public, according to public opinion polls, is starting to sour on him, and once that happens it is a difficult challenge to right that opinion. He may want to look at what [former Ontario] Premier McGuinty did when faced with a similar situation."

[ Related: NDP brand surpasses Tory brand, closing in on Liberals’ ]

Ivison isn't the first one to suggest Harper might be considering an early exit.

In March, Steve Paikin — a journalist for TV Ontario — wrote a provocative column about Stephen Harper resigning in the summer.

Paikin's musings were collectively dismissed by those in the Ottawa bubble.

But then came the Senate expense scandal. All of the sudden, Paikin wasn't alone.

In June, in her column for the Toronto Star, Chantal Hébert wrote this:

With every passing day, the notion that Stephen Harper could pack it in before the next election and let someone else try to keep his fractious party whole enough to hang onto power in two years sound less and less far-fetched.

Also in June, Norman Spector, former Chief of Staff of Brian Mulroney, told CKNW radio that Harper may not have any choice but to resign.

"I think that he's so mishandled [the Senate expense scandal] that people are so suspicious now that I can't think of any other ways other than offering up his own head to put this scandal to bed," he said.

"My own view is the Conservatives will be much stronger going into the election with a fresh new leader. But more importantly, I don't see many ways for Harper to dispel the Senate, Duffy, Nigel Wright [affair] for many many more months."

Since the summer, things have gotten worse and people still don't believe Stephen Harper and his 'I knew nothing' Senate scandal defence.

Unfortunately for the Conservatives, the scandal isn't going away anytime soon.

And until it does — or Stephen Harper does — there are going to be a lot more articles like Ivison's.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

Are you a politics junkie?
Follow @politicalpoints on Twitter!