July 12, 2020

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Scheer waited till push came to shove

Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/12/2019 (213 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Why is it that so many political leaders who are faced with clear evidence of failure refuse to leave of their own volition and must be pushed?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has become the latest case in point. After seven weeks of gruelling, relentless pressure to resign following his party's sub-par election result in October, he finally, mercifully signalled on Thursday his intention to step down.

A talk with his son, a seat in the sun: Scheer's decision to step down

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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer acknowledges supporters following a speech on election night at party campaign headquarters in Regina, Tuesday, October 22, 2019. Scheer is stepping down as a Conservative leader. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer acknowledges supporters following a speech on election night at party campaign headquarters in Regina, Tuesday, October 22, 2019. Scheer is stepping down as a Conservative leader. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Posted: 12/12/2019 4:53 PM

OTTAWA - Mid-way through last week, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer came home from a day on Parliament Hill and got to talking with one of sons.

He realized, he would tell Conservative MPs and senators at meeting Thursday morning, he had no idea what was going in his child's life.

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Why now, after nearly two months of resisting almost daily calls for his resignation? This is where the push comes in.

Global News and Maclean's magazine reported that Scheer was receiving support from the party to pay for his children's private school tuition without direct knowledge of the Conservative Fund board of directors, which includes former prime minister Stephen Harper. The two news organization said the lack of transparency about the expense, and the optics, led senior party officials to demand Scheer's resignation.

This is a developing story and given that Scheer abruptly resigned after consistently insisting he would stay, it will likely continue to simmer for a few days. However, as the tuition story gathers more attention, it will obscure an indisputable truth: Scheer had done more than enough before the tuition scandal to justify his resignation.

The awful truth that many could see, but that Scheer would not admit, was that he did a horrible job in the election, literally snatching defeat from the jaws of what should have been victory.

Trudeau was deeply wounded, first by the SNC-Lavalin affair in which he was found to have personally breached ethics guidelines, and then during the campaign when it was revealed the Liberal leader had repeatedly donned "brownface" and blackface makeup in his earlier life.

Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives received more votes than Justin Trudeau and the Liberals but still came in second, only the second time in postwar history that has happened. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press)

Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives received more votes than Justin Trudeau and the Liberals but still came in second, only the second time in postwar history that has happened. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press)

Of even greater strategic importance, Trudeau's insistence on completing the Trans Mountain oil pipeline had estranged him from voters for whom climate change was the No. 1 issue in the election. In other words, Trudeau had done more than enough in cumulative fashion to fracture his own base of support and hand a victory to the Tories.

But Scheer had issues of his own, such as his clear affinity with — and his maddening inability to satisfy — the party's social conservatives.

Scheer frustrated social conservatives by refusing, as Harper had done before him, to engage in a public debate on issues such as abortion. At the same time, he refused to appear at Pride Day events, which obscured the strong stance he had occasionally taken in support of LGBTTQ+ issues, while at the same time confirming voters' worst suspicions about the power that social conservatives had on the erstwhile Tory leader.

However, Scheer's greatest shortcoming was that in an election that appeared to be his for the taking, he could not appeal to voters in sufficient numbers outside of Western Canada.

Andrew Scheer's greatest shortcoming was that in an election that appeared to be his for the taking, he could not appeal to voters in sufficient numbers outside of Western Canada.

It should be noted that the election result was anomalous. The Conservatives received more votes than the Liberals but still came in second, only the second time in postwar history that has happened. How the Tories won more votes but lost the election tells a story not only of Scheer's failure, but the challenge facing the Conservatives.

Conservative support was the very definition of inefficient. The Tories gorged themselves on gaudy pluralities in the West, but were an unpalatable option in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario. Yes, Scheer took a big bite out of Liberal support, but his party's inability to connect with voters outside the Prairies was a fatal mistake.

As leader, Scheer must fall on his sword. However, make no mistake: Scheer's failures are not due to his shortcomings as a man and a politician; they are just as much about his party's lack of compelling identity.

Voters outside the West did not just reject Scheer, they rejected the dog's breakfast of ideas that have been awkwardly bound together to become the guiding principles of the Conservative party. It was a mess that voters east of Manitoba could not embrace.

Voters outside the West did not just reject Scheer, they rejected the dog's breakfast of ideas that have been awkwardly bound together to become the guiding principles of the Conservative party. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press files)

Voters outside the West did not just reject Scheer, they rejected the dog's breakfast of ideas that have been awkwardly bound together to become the guiding principles of the Conservative party. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press files)

The Tories won more seats (54) in the three Prairie provinces than they did in Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces (50) combined. That reflects a problem that is bigger and runs deeper than the leader. It won't go away soon.

In the current Parliament, the Conservatives are howling long and hard about "Wexit" and the lack of support for the struggling economies in Saskatchewan and Alberta. While that will galvanize their eclipse-like support in those two provinces, it does little to connect with other regions where there is less sympathy for the hard times in the oilpatch.

A note on historical context: Scheer had the unenviable job of leading a party that had just been defeated after a decade in government. In politics, the first person selected to lead after a loss in power rarely sticks around long enough to enjoy success.

However, in the category of being careful about what you wish for, Scheer may have already figured out that the Conservatives party is, in its current form, one of the least likely truly national political options in this country. That is a reality the next leader of the party will have to overcome.

That will require the Tories to recruit and elect a leader who respects western alienation while still adopting the contemporary political values that play well in vote-rich provinces such as Ontario and Quebec.

Whether the next leader can do that is anyone's guess. For now, we only know that Scheer could not.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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