There is no evidence that Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is a fan of the iconic rock band the Clash. But there is little doubt that one of the Clash’s most famous songs is fast becoming a post-election anthem for Mr. Scheer:
Should I stay or should I go now? If I go, there will be trouble; if I stay, there will be double.
Well, come on and let me know — should I stay or should I go?
The parallels between this song and Mr. Scheer’s current leadership dilemma are intriguing. Following a disappointing second-place finish in last month’s federal election, Tories from coast to coast are openly mulling his future, even as the leader himself indicates his intention to stay on.
Deeply wounded by the SNC-Lavalin and brown/blackface scandals, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were believed by many to be ripe for the picking. So much so that many pundits described it as Mr. Scheer’s election to lose.
And lose he did.
Despite capturing more votes — primarily a result of gaudy pluralities in western ridings where the Tories dominate — the Conservatives fell well short of winning enough seats to form government. There is no getting around the fact Mr. Scheer’s poor performance allowed Mr. Trudeau to snatch victory from the jaws of what appeared to be almost certain defeat.
Former MP Peter MacKay, a co-founder of the current Conservative party who many believe should have run against Mr. Scheer, has been particularly outspoken.
At an event in Washington, D.C., this week, MacKay was asked about the performance of his former party in the election. "To use a good Canadian analogy, it was like having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net," he said.
Mr. MacKay suggested Mr. Scheer’s record on social issues, particularly abortion and LGBTTQ+ rights, allowed the Liberals to portray the Tories as intolerant. Once the Liberals succeeded in making it an election issue, Mr. MacKay said, it "hung around Andrew Scheer’s neck like a stinking albatross."
“To use a good Canadian analogy, it was like having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net.” - Peter MacKay on the performance of the Conservatives in the federal election
It might be that Mr. MacKay’s harsh analysis of the Tory campaign is motivated by self-interest. He is believed to be building a team to make a possible leadership bid if the position becomes vacant. That could come sooner rather than later, as a mandatory caucus leadership review vote could come as early as next week.
That leaves Mr. Scheer with two options — one that is bad, and another that is worse.
As the aforementioned Clash classic points out, if Mr. Scheer goes, the Conservatives face trouble in the form of a long and painful process to rebrand. For a party that has been reinvented several times in the past 20 years, another rebranding is about as welcome as finding out the root canal you just endured needs to be done again.
And yet, if he stays, double trouble awaits Mr. Scheer. Even if he avoids the indignity of losing the caucus vote, there will still be unrest in the Tory universe. Mr. Scheer has had ample time to build a brand and design an effective campaign to capture broader support; as the election results show, he has fallen short on those goals.
It’s a tricky situation for Mr. Scheer. Careful consideration will show that leaving — as painful as it may be — might be a whole lot less trouble than staying. Based on his performance in the recent campaign, however, Canadians would be justified in wondering whether his judgment will lead him to the best choice.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.