If the former Conservative leader is being completely honest, then there's no one but himself to blame for his demise
For someone who had one of his best weeks in months, Andrew Scheer picked an odd time to call it quits.
The Conservative Party of Canada leader announced his resignation last Thursday, barely two years after taking the helm of the party. He said the decision came following many weeks of “long conversations with friends and family.” Don’t believe it.
The announcement came as a shock to his caucus. And for Scheer, the writing has been on the wall since the election.
After several prominent Conservatives came out publicly against Scheer, there has been a lot of talk about the need for the party to “modernize.” Scheer’s brand of social conservatism just doesn’t fit the mould of a modern, multi-ethnic Canada.
And those in the party from Ontario who were expecting a Doug Ford-like repeat in the province couldn’t let go of the fact that a golden opportunity had slipped through the party’s fingers. Nothing short of a win would do.
But was it even realistic to think Scheer could go from 100 seats to the 170 needed for a majority? Stephen Harper didn’t win a majority government until his fifth try.
In the weeks since the campaign, it looked like Scheer was prepared to ride out the questions about his leadership.
He let go of his closest staffers, including campaign co-chair and longtime friend Hamish Marshall. The party had tasked John Baird to conduct an election post-mortem. And the party had enlisted the help of Conservative fixer Nick Kouvalis to help him navigate the minefield he found himself in post-election.
A plan was put in motion to remake Scheer in the lead-up to April’s leadership review in Toronto. The talking points on that revolved around a number of questions. If not Scheer, then who?
But those behind the scenes orchestrating the whisper campaign against Scheer wouldn’t stop. And in recent weeks, several news outlets were chasing allegations that Scheer availed himself of funds from the party to send his kids to private school.
The party’s executive director released a statement to say there was nothing inappropriate about the arrangement. The optics were another matter, especially for someone who spent a good deal of time during the election telling voters how much of a fraud the other guy was.
To be sure, a low-level campaign to topple Scheer had been going on even before the election was over and it was clear that the country was headed for a Liberal minority. Scheer’s inability to resonate with voters in central Canada exposed his Achilles heel and is what ultimately led to his undoing. His unwillingness to tell the So-Con lobby in the party to fuck off didn’t help either. Yes, he owed his leadership to them, but they also proved a massive liability in the election.
Those who know Scheer say he is a straight arrow, an honest guy. If he was being completely honest with himself then he must have known that his continued leadership of the party had become untenable.
The recent spin coming from Scheer supporters is that the leader would have done better in Ontario if it hadn’t been for the mess made by Doug Ford, who was noticeably absent from Scheer campaign stops during the election. It’s no secret – and bears repeating – that most among those who have come out publicly against Scheer’s leadership are Ford supporters who’ve been angling to launch Ford into Scheer’s place. Ford has said since Scheer’s resignation that he’s not interested in the job. That remains to be seen.
But for Scheer, his post-election travails were quickly turning into a no-win proposition.
There were too many unforgivable tactical errors during the campaign from a team that had never run a national race before. Scheer’s obsession with covering his right flank to keep onside the yahoos in former Conservative foe Maxime Bernier’s base was a big mistake. Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada proved no factor at all in the election.
And then there was his well-publicized failure to stickhandle questions about his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. On climate change – the number one issue of the campaign (if we can forget Brownface/Blackface for the moment) – there was no carbon pricing regime to speak of in the Conservative platform. Scheer’s failure to disclose his American citizenship and the false claim on his résumé that he earned credentials as an insurance broker before he entered politics, highlighted a recurring transparency problem.
Even if he had managed to make it to the leadership review, chances were that Scheer would not have been able to win enough support to quiet the naysayers in the party. Getting planeloads of delegates from his base out West to the vote in Toronto would be no easy task.
But it’s Scheer who must take most of the blame for his demise.
There has been much talk post-election about his inability to “evolve.” And lately he’s seemed in no mood to acknowledge the rebuke handed him by voters. Scheer has been doubling down, singing from the same old songbook we heard during the election. He’s sounded more like someone auditioning to be the leader of the Western Separatist Party than the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. And more out of touch than ever. Was this really the guy to lead the party into the next election? Clearly not.
Word is relations with most of his caucus have also soured.
Scheer has been an MP since 2004. He’s spent most of his adult life in politics. But he’s spent the better part of the last decade outside the Conservative caucus serving as Speaker of the House. That job came with all the trappings of political privilege – a private residence, staff, a car and, critics say, it created an air of entitlement around Scheer that didn’t go over well with fellow MPs.
Scheer hadn’t learned the lessons required to lead. Conservative insiders say that there was very little interaction by Scheer with caucus members, save for the dozen or so favourites he’d sometimes share coffee with in the members’ lounge.
Scheer had one final request before signing off last Thursday, and that was that the party stay united. That wasn’t going to happen if he stuck around.