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Time for Scheer to show us what he’s got

In 15 months as Conservative Party leader, Andrew Scheer has shown Canadians his ways are at least as sunny as those of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The party convention in Halifax this week gives him a chance to show the country a party united behind a definite plan for government.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/08/2018 (1622 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In 15 months as Conservative Party leader, Andrew Scheer has shown Canadians his ways are at least as sunny as those of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The party convention in Halifax this week gives him a chance to show the country a party united behind a definite plan for government.

Mr. Scheer’s cheerful countenance and emollient manner, a striking change from the combative, unsmiling Stephen Harper, brought him early success — election to the House of Commons at age 25, appointment as Speaker of the Commons seven years later. The same style still works for him. People can’t help liking him. But the country is still waiting to find out what lies behind the smile.

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer (Patrick Doyle / The Canadian Press files)

We know he doesn’t much like same-sex marriage, doesn’t like legalization of marijuana, doesn’t like abortion, doesn’t like refugees walking across the border from the U.S., doesn’t like a tax on carbon.

But will an Andrew Scheer government turn back the clock on same-sex marriage, legal cannabis and abortion? Will it block refugees from claiming asylum in Canada? Will it give up on reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions?

An anxious country awaits answers.

Also in question is Mr. Scheer’s capacity to tame the wild, undisciplined people in his party ranks. He took a long time to resolve the problem of Senator Lynn Beyak, who used her Senate website to publicize racist stereotypes of Canadian Indigenous people. He hasn’t yet persuaded Maxime Bernier, runner-up at last year’s leadership convention, to blend his voice with the Conservative choir.

Federal politics naturally attracts loud, assertive people who love publicity and seek advancement. Prime ministers sometimes have a tough time keeping their followers in line, even though they can offer the inducement of promotion within government and the threat of expulsion from the party.

Leaders of the Opposition have few inducements to offer and few punishments to threaten.

They can appeal to personal loyalty and the advantages of party unity, but mainly, it’s a matter of chemistry — the human, emotional ties between the leader and the followers. Canadians are waiting to see the force and quality of Andrew Scheer’s chemistry.

Canada’s parties have a year and a bit to prepare for the election that would ordinarily be held in October 2019. If the Conservatives stumble badly in Halifax, Mr. Trudeau might be tempted to find a pretext for an early election. The Liberals’ best hope, however, may lie in waiting for continuing collapse of the New Democratic Party vote to bring new supporters to the government.

Mr. Scheer, therefore, probably has a year to show Canadians that he is not just another pretty face.

The Conservative program written in Halifax should be some amalgam of what Mr. Scheer and his followers want to do and what they think Canadians want to hear. It should be reasonably consistent with the conservatism of prime ministers Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark and Stephen Harper.

It should also respond to the forces that are at work in the era of U.S. President Donald Trump, mass migration, cyber attacks and trade wars.

The election of Doug Ford’s Conservatives in Ontario and the decline in support for Philippe Couillard’s Liberals in Quebec should encourage Conservatives to close ranks, stick together and resist the urge to gang up on their leader.

He has not yet led them to defeat. He deserves a chance to show he can win.

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