It's been almost a year since Tom Flanagan reached out and touched a third rail of political discourse, then held on to it and gave it a hug.
For that, the one-time adviser to Preston Manning and Stephen Harper received a late-life lesson in political retribution at warp speed.
That he appears to be on the cusp of redemption pulls the curtain back on a quiet, but important debate within Canada's conservative movement regarding libertarian thought, freedom of speech and the need to keep public utterances on a plain that, as Manning put it, does no damage to the conservative family.
Flanagan, in a university setting in Lethbridge, Alta., infamously mused about whether there was a need for jail sentences for consumers of child pornography.
"I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures," he told a student in a confrontation that had all the hallmarks of a set-up - the question had nothing to do with the topic of the seminar, it was videotaped and quickly put on YouTube.
No matter. It appeared that 45 years in academia and almost two decades at the forefront of conservative thought as author, columnist and political operative
had come crashing down.
Flanagan was swiftly canned as a political pundit on the CBC News Network. The Manning Network Conference, a showcase of conservative thought, disinvited him
from its national symposium.
Alberta's Opposition leader, Danielle Smith, who had refused to dump candidates who expressed homophobic and racist views in the 2012 provincial campaign, quickly vowed the party would no longer have anything to do with
Flanagan, who had managed the 2012 Wildrose campaign.
Harper's office called his views "repugnant, ignorant and appalling'' and then-heritage minister James Moore called on the University of Calgary to fire him.
And, yes, the university did immediately announce he was on sabbatical until his retirement, although Flanagan did say he was planning to retire.
And then the coup de grace - Manning targeted his old friend and associate at the conference that had barred him.
The greatest danger to the conservative movement, Manning said, were "intemperate comments ... that discredit the family as a whole, in particular, conservative governments, parties, and campaigns."
Conservative organizations should be prepared to "swiftly and publicly" disassociate those individuals who cross that line, Manning said.
Less than a year later, Flanagan is back and on a list of speakers for this year's symposium, as first reported by Postmedia.
There is clearly regret over the speed with which he was condemned, although most of the second thought seems to have come those with roots in the former Reform party instead of today's party run by Harper.
Flanagan is a man whose tongue has often strayed into controversial territory and he has made political enemies along the way.
But there were members of the small-c conservative movement in this country who looked on with grave discomfort as a "politically correct" smackdown of
Flanagan overtook any other concept of academic freedom, strictures on speech and debate, and Manning's view that conservatives should just keep their mouths shut if their views were out of the mainstream.
Manning, as Reform leader, had a long history with caucus members whose brains seemed to engage only after they walked away from microphones so his twitchiness on the topic has been earned.
Flanagan, of course, would have been at the table when punishments for such Reform transgressions were decided.
Manning's comments, however, were a long way from the Reform populist roots that attracted a bevy of straight-talking non-politicians to Ottawa in the years before that movement morphed into today's Harper government.
None of this excuses Flanagan's comments of a year ago, statements he regrets, even if he has not repudiated them.
But his plight was replete with ironies - the party that came to prominence mocking political correctness showed itself to be a skilled player in the game it once rued and Flanagan, who over two decades tried to forge a party that was in control of its message, was pilloried because he lost his own message.
He had been sentenced before he had a proper chance to defend himself and the fact he has been let back into the "family'' is a reminder that the freedom to debate, particularly in the academic setting, is important in this country and that all transgressions are not met with life sentences.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer.