National Affairs column
In contrast with the NDP, the Conservative party does not boast "saints" in its portrait gallery. It is not in the quarrelsome Conservative DNA to vest in emblematic figures the moral authority that the likes of Roy Romanow, Ed Broadbent or Stephen Lewis enjoy among New Democrats.
But the party makes up for that with conscientious objectors and over the past week Tory senator Hugh Segal has distinguished himself in that role.
One need not even agree with Segal's contention that in seeking to summarily remove three senators from the upper house and its payroll the Conservative majority in the Senate is acting like a lynch mob to note that his defence of the principles of fundamental justice was as timely as it was courageous.
By stepping up to the plate, Segal actually contributed a small measure of due process to the government's bid to drive Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau out of the parliamentary precincts.
But in so doing Segal has also put a different - more serious - face on the growing internal discomfort over the authoritarian style of the current prime minister.
Up until now, that discomfort was mostly voiced by mavericks such as former MP Garth Turner or, in the current Parliament, Brent Rathgeber or by disgraced Conservatives such as - in the case of this week - Duffy and Wallin. For different reasons they mostly have had in common that they had little left to lose by standing up to the prime minister.
But Segal falls in another category. A lifelong Tory whose distinguished contribution to public service is testimony to the fact that it is possible to be both fiercely loyal to a party and principled, his appeals to the better instincts of the Conservative party will not be easily dismissed.
Even after the Senate showdown is over, Segal's admonitions will continue to nag at the conscience of many of his fellow Conservatives, some of whom do not always like what they see when they look in the mirror these days.
That group won't include the Conservatives who subscribe to the approach of an eye for an eye favoured by the prime minister. They will dismiss Segal's inconvenient interventions as manifestations of a liberal-friendly bleeding heart.
But the psyche of those red-meat Conservatives also took a beating this week - albeit not in the Senate but in the House of Commons and at the prosecutorial hands of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.
It is fair to say that none of Mulcair's recent predecessors could have delivered the performance that he gave in both languages this week as he meticulously tore sections of Stephen Harper's thin Senate narrative to shreds.
This is a rare opposition leader who not only knows the difference between a bark and a bite but also does not let go once he has sunk his teeth into his opponent.
(As an aside, that should make for quite a set of televised election debates in 2015.)
In different circumstances one might have felt sorry for the prime minister who had to submit to Mulcair's relentless inquisition over the past week.
But as prime minister, Harper has added chapter and verse to the take-no-prisoner handbook. He mercilessly crushed Mulcair's opposition predecessors into oblivion and routinely resorts to similarly hardline tactics to browbeat his Conservative colleagues into submission.
More than one cabinet minister has the bruises to show for the fact that Harper has no use for a velvet glove to drape over his iron fist.
Anyone who remembers his or her school days knows that few events do more to undermine the authority of a bully than a successful challenge to the notion that he has the complete run of the schoolyard.
It is too early to know which, of the appeals to conscience and principle of Segal or the Mulcair-inflicted dents in the battered armour of the prime minister, will result in the most lasting damage to Conservative morale but the combination makes for a more vulnerable Harper than a short week ago.
Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.