Well, it happened. A little sooner than I expected, but it happened. Andrew Scheer is toast. I am almost the only person I know, who is not particularly happy about that. There may be a few Liberal insiders who are quaking about the effect this could have on Justin Trudeau’s future, but otherwise, most people on both sides of the political spectrum are happy to see him go down. It reminds me of a modern-day version of a public hanging.
My disappointment is not so much that Andrew Scheer is leaving, as it is about the generational culture of the Conservative Party to knife their leaders in the back, at the earliest opportunity. There is also no question, that at least in this latest case, they were aided and abetted by many in the mainstream media who just like to stick it to the Tories. Does anyone believe for one second that there are not serious grumblings in the Liberal ranks about Justin Trudeau given his poor performance and his inability to hold on to a majority government? It is true that they are better at doing their dirty work behind closed doors, but the media always have their sources and it is astonishing that we have seen next to nothing about Liberal dissatisfaction with someone who almost led them to defeat. In contrast, we have seen almost daily headlines and opinion pieces about why Andrew Scheer should go.
When Andrew Scheer won the Conservative leadership two years ago, it was a bit of a surprise but a far better choice than the front runner, Maxime Bernier. No one really knew much about Scheer, except he seemed to be well liked and respected as a cheerful Speaker of the House of Commons. There were lots of Conservatives who supported other leadership candidates and who were grumbling at Scheer’s election. Many of them are still grumbling. The Conservatives under Andrew Scheer won the popular vote, vastly increased their standing in Parliament and very nearly brought Justin Trudeau to his knees. Yet, the hard truth is that Scheer failed to win government and in spite of the fact that most Leaders have received a second chance, that was enough to bring out the long knives.
Andrew Scheer did not resign, as some would have us believe, because of the strategic timing of the revelation that his Party was subsidizing a portion of his children’s education expenses. That information could only have come from an insider, one of those who wanted Scheer out, sooner, rather than later. Those same people would also know that paying expenses of a Party leader that they would not otherwise incur, is standard procedure for all political Parties. Normally this would cover such items as accommodation, clothing, and entertainment responsibilities. Education expenses is likely a new one, but Andrew Scheer is the first Canadian Leader to come to the table with five young children and to top up the difference between tuition fees in Saskatchewan and those in Ottawa is an expense that would not have otherwise occurred. Standard- procedure, authorized by the Party and not by Mr. Scheer.
No, Andrew Scheer resigned solely because he concluded he could not overcome the infighting within his own Party, and he believed six months of back biting and acrimony would hurt Conservatives during a period when Justin Trudeau could trigger an election at any time. That is a distinct possibility as an election during a period of turmoil within the Conservative Party, could be an advantage for the Liberals. Under the circumstances, Scheer was right to call it a day and it is a clear indication of the strength of his character.
So, what now? In my view, the first thing the Conservative Party of Canada needs to do over the next few months is to define who they really are. One thing we do not need is a second Liberal Party in Canada, and I fear that some leadership hopefuls will attempt to move more to the centre left in a belief they can attract more votes in this populist environment. Conversely, there will be those who want to move to the extreme right, isolating the Party on social issues that have long since become acceptable to the majority of Canadians.
It is time for Conservatives at the federal level to clearly stake out their turf. In my view, that is to the right of centre but not the far, alt right. It is certainly not to the left. There are enough of those already! Conservatives believe that fiscal responsibility and debt reduction are key requirements in ensuring the long- term provision of programs that protect the vulnerable. They recognize they cannot be all things to all people and that there is a limit to what government should do. Their priorities must be pollution control, national unity and a respectable standard of living for all Canadians, regardless of their circumstances. And they must have a healthy respect for the rule of law.
So, now that we are in a leadership race, who is out there that can reflect these values and present a real alternative to Canadian voters, without extremism and without catering to populism? Not many in my view, but there are some.
Rona Ambrose is one. She has been out of the fray for a while. She was an effective Interim Leader of the Conservatives before Andrew Scheer. She was the first federal Conservative leader to march in a Gay Pride parade. She has strong conservative values, tempered with genuine compassion for those who struggle in our society.
Another is Erin O’Toole. He finished third in the last leadership race. He too has strong conservative values and he is not an extremist. As a member of Parliament from Ontario, he represents a part of the country where Conservatives badly need more support. He has served as an Officer in the Armed Forces, held a number of key Cabinet posts and has a public profile that would challenge Justin Trudeau.
There will be others of course, including those who have already had their day. But these are the two I would keep my eye on. Politics is seldom dull and the next few months will be no exception.
Perhaps at the end of it, we shall see what the Conservative Party of Canada really stands for.
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