Most people who read this column know that I am a Conservative. Some do not like that very much, but that is who I am. It all started because I got on the wrong bus!
I had been accepted as a grade seven student at University of Toronto School (UTS). The school was on Bloor Street at Spadina, and we lived in North Toronto. That meant, for the first time, I had to take public transportation to and from school. There were two ‘Nortown’ bus routes in those days. One went up Yonge Street, the other up Avenue Road. On one occasion, I somehow got confused and took the bus that went up Yonge Street when I should have taken the Avenue Road bus. When I realized my mistake, I got off to walk home.
On the corner where I got off the bus was the old Consumers Gas Building, being used as campaign headquarters by Donald Fleming, the Conservative candidate for the riding of Eglinton. I knew nothing about politics, but it looked kind of interesting and I really wasn’t in a hurry to go home so I wandered in. They put me to work, running errands, stuffing mailers, and generally helping out. It was exciting stuff for a thirteen-year old!
On election night, Donald Fleming won in a landslide and John Diefenbaker narrowly became prime minister of Canada, the first for a Conservative in almost two decades. The next day, Fleming and some of his supporters were on the front page of the Toronto Star. I was in that picture and I was hooked!
In the ensuing years I have supported most Conservative leaders at both the federal and provincial levels, known many of them personally, and worked for two of them. At one point, I also served as senior vice president of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.
And so I am indisputably a Tory, probably a Red Tory by today’s standards, but a Conservative none-the-less. I am not, however, a robot. I am not a partisan to the point where I am afraid to speak out when I believe that people in the party I support are wrong. I actually believe it is a matter of conscience and duty to do that, even though, as I have experienced from time to time, one pays a price for it, as have some of my friends.
This past week, I have been profoundly disappointed in Andrew Scheer. I have tried to be supportive. I believe he has been unfairly treated by the mainstream media and, as I said last week, I think he was doing his job as leader of the opposition in defending the responsibility of Parliament to oversee and hold the government accountable during the current pandemic. But recently, in my view, Andrew Scheer proved what others have been saying: he is not a strong leader.
Scheer has a nut-job in his caucus; a rookie M.P. most people haven’t heard of who thinks he should become the next prime minister of Canada, by the name of Derek Sloan. Last week, he made racist and unfounded charges against Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, questioning her loyalty to Canada and leaving open the possibility that she might be involved in a conspiracy with China. All this, as she is working twenty-hour days to lead Canadians through the health hazards of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This was a defining moment for Andrew Scheer. It was his opportunity to show strong leadership, to say there was no room in the Conservative Party for this kind of racist nonsense that undermines the efforts of public servants in critical positions. He should have thrown the guy right out of caucus. That would have been real leadership.
Instead, what did Andrew Scheer do? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. He ducked the question and said that Sloan could speak for himself. In doing so he is allowing the likes of Derek Sloan to define the Conservative Party and that is unconscionable.
To their credit, many Conservative members of Parliament publicly decried, as Scheer did not, the comments by Sloan about Dr. Tam. This included Parry Sound-Muskoka M.P. Scott Aitchison.
Given Andrew Scheer’s actions of last week, it appears that many in Conservative circles are renewing their push for a return to an early leadership election date, after it was suspended by Party officials. I for one disagree. In fact, I believe the current leadership race should not only be suspended, it should be dissolved, and we should start all over again.
There are only four candidates who are currently approved to be on a federal Conservative leadership ballot. One of these should not even be in the Conservative Party; another is not well known outside of Toronto and does not have a reasonable chance of winning. That leaves only two candidates, both of whom are credible but who by themselves do not fully represent the high quality of leadership abilities that exist within the Conservative Party. The talent pool is a great deal deeper than that and as the next prime minister of Canada may come out of this contest, it is important to have a strong list of candidates from which to choose.
Much has changed in Canada since the coronavirus hit us and much more is going to change. It may be that some qualified candidates that decided to take a pass last time around, partly because of stringent rules and financial obligations that were put in place and partly for personal reasons, may now reconsider. Some of these have demonstrated extraordinary leadership during the pandemic. Given the unexpected difficulties we are currently experiencing and recognizing the need that this will dictate for strong and disciplined leadership in the years ahead, there are good and experienced people out there who may now feel called to serve. They should in my view be given the opportunity to put their name forward under these new set of circumstances.
Canadians deserve that.
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