OTTAWA -- OK, he’s ready. Finally.

Peter MacKay has been itching to lead the Conservative party since he co-founded it with Stephen Harper 17 years ago.

After last night’s one-and-only English leadership debate, it’s clear that, while MacKay might not ooze royal jelly, he’s the only decent shot the Conservatives have left to dethrone Justin Trudeau in the next election.

MacKay barely bothered batting away a second night of attacks on his record -- some cheap, other stinging -- from co-frontrunner Erin O’Toole.

He didn’t lose his cool, when it was clearly O’Toole’s strategy to rattle his rival into a meltdown.

And while O’Toole is spinning bald tires against the carbon tax and the new NAFTA, MacKay correctly pivoted to the need for new ideas to push out the policy pegs and lure urban voters into a bigger blue tent.

Of course, this was not a two-hour pitch to advance a general election platform for implementation by a Conservative prime minister in the near future.

It was an audition by a MacKay aiming to win the leadership on the first ballot and for O’Toole to capture second choice votes as fringe candidates Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan are tossed off the preferential ballot.

It’s still possible for O’Toole to win, but the cost will be a hefty IOU to social conservative forces, recreating the ‘stinking albatross’ MacKay blamed for destroying Andrew Scheer’s election potential.

And so, in a debate with no zingers, no knockdowns, not even a combat bruise that would last until morning, MacKay delivered a safe performance which exceeded modest expectations.

Even though his debate answers merged into a white noise of platitudes and clichés, it was mission accomplished for the frontrunner.

Don’t fluster, don’t engage, appear prime ministerial and don’t veer off scripts crafted during many days of debate prep.

And so, for excitement we look to the hype behind interesting personality Leslyn Lewis.

It didn’t entirely materialize. She read too many of her answers, veering off hilariously into quoting Whitney Houston “Children are our future” territory to explain why she wanted to be prime minister.

But I nitpick. It was a confident performance, particularly her answer to the reality of systemic racism, and it points to her as a future face in a middle-aged, white, male-dominated Conservative leadership.

Then there’s Derek Sloan, who has no right being in this race beyond being the usual anti-abortion candidate.

His primary role in the debate seems to have been to provide social policy distancing for MacKay and O’Toole after he was conveniently paired with Lewis for the obligatory abortion question.

Still, we must acknowledge this race matters, damnit.

Delusional NDP aspirations to the contrary, the Liberals will soon be entering middle age as a government and the Conservatives are the only natural governing replacement.

The odds are high that the winner of this race will end up being Justin Trudeau’s replacement.

And for those who believe Trudeau’s handling of his fiscal war against the pandemic makes him invincible in the next election, lest we forget Winston Churchill saved the world from the Nazis only to be defeated in a U.K. general election before the Second World War had completely ended.

Even so, watching that modest lineup must make power-hungry Conservative diehards weep at the thought that names like Jean Charest, Rona Ambrose and Pierre Poilievre gave the race a pass.

And watching former leader aspirant Lisa Raitt handle the debate with commendable personality and professionalism leaves you wondering how it was possible that the best candidate for the job was… the moderator.