Party insiders say the Conservative leader is making questions about his leadership worse by refusing to accept that mistakes were made during the campaign
Suddenly Doug Ford is acting all statesman-like.
In the days after the most divisive federal election in recent history, there he was inviting his fellow Con premiers for a fireside chat at Queen’s Park to talk about how they’ve got to bring the country together.
Maybe Doug got too much sun during the five-month hiatus his government took starting this summer, which lasted right through the federal election. Or maybe he’s got his eye on Andrew Scheer’s job.
It’s no secret Doug has been planning an exit strategy after a disastrous first year in office. And now the stars have seemingly re-aligned for him. A few behind his leadership campaign have been talking openly behind the scenes about Dougie replacing Scheer. You read that right.
Halloween is not quite here but there has been much howling in Conservative backrooms ever since Scheer’s election night disappointment. Yes, the party won more seats. But the coveted breakthrough in Ontario never transpired.
So it didn’t take long for the #ScheerMustGo hashtag to start trending on Twitter. And for Doug’s Twitter account (or the person(s) managing it) to retweet it. That was later chalked up by the premier to a mistake and deleted.
But consider it as a not-so-subtle signal. Doug is definitely getting his jollies watching Scheer squirm. After the way he was treated like a pariah during the election by Scheer’s gang, it’s time for payback.
Scheer has responded by offering some defensive drivel about returning the “largest opposition in Canadian history.”
It’s true. But the problem for Scheer is that the Cons actually did worse in Ontario than in 2015, losing some 47 of 55 seats in the GTA.
Like their Reform Party predecessors, the Cons under Scheer have once again become a largely rural party. East of the Manitoba border, they won less than 30 per cent of the vote.
So just how serious is the challenge to Scheer’s leadership?
Ford’s people have been making the case that he’s the one to deliver Ontario federally. That’s a good one. But maybe not completely off the mark. Ford rode the 905 to his majority win in the 2018 provincial election.
But there are those who say Scheer has earned the right to fight another day. This was his first federal election as leader, after all. Even Scheer’s buddy Stephen Harper has weighed in to urge “calm,” which may be the biggest indicator of just how quickly this has come off the rails.
Still, this was Scheer’s election to lose, and lose he did. Despite the Brownface/Blackface controversy, Scheer still managed to be outperformed by Trudeau.
The self-described “leader of Canada’s Conservatives” – a title that Scheer has never really worn convincingly – has some ’splainin’ to do. He’s said the party is planning a full review to determine what went wrong.
Party insiders say there have been meetings every day, and that Scheer has been read the riot act over a number of bad tactical decisions made during the campaign. Like, for example, spending the party’s wad in Quebec to hold on to a handful of seats. Then there was the internal party polling that had Scheer winning in the last days of the campaign. Scheer’s campaign chair Hamish Marshall reportedly gathered the team the night before the election to say Scheer was on track to win. Clearly someone missed a beat, because that’s not what the other polls were saying – or had been saying throughout the campaign.
But Scheer has reportedly not responded well to the criticism, and so far has refused to offer a sign that there were mistakes and that changes need to be made. He could start with firing a few of the loyalists he’s surrounded himself with that were clearly over their heads.
The challenge for Scheer, however, is that he owes his leadership to the party’s social conservative base. He won with the support of the hardcore. In this regard, his situation is not unlike Patrick Brown’s – remember him? – and potentially just as precarious.
The former PC leader won the leadership of the provincial wing of the party by endearing himself to the party’s anti-abortion, anti-gay crowd. Then Brown turned on them when he recognized the need to appeal more broadly to progressive urban areas. Brown’s election platform veered the party to the centre. And we all know where that got him when scandal hit. The base that elected him was just as quick to cut him loose.
Scheer can’t afford to alienate his support in the same way if he hopes to survive the party’s leadership review in April. In fact, some political observers suggest it might be better for the Cons to get rid of Scheer before then. It’s not like there’s going to be another election anytime soon so why wait until April? Or, so the logic goes.
Ford is not the only one angling for Scheer’s job. Alberta premier Jason Kenney has been ramping up the rhetoric about growing Western alienation. And hinting broadly about the need for a strong voice from the West at the decision-making table in Ottawa now that there are zero Liberal MPs to speak of in the Prairies.
Meanwhile, some Ontario conservatives, important ones, are reportedly trying to convince Rona Ambrose, who served as interim leader after Harper, to come back. The temperature is rising.
And, any legitimate claim Scheer had to sticking around because Trudeau’s minority will be short-lived is in serious doubt.
The truth is that no one party holds the balance of power. The Liberals won’t control the committees, but with 157 seats (just 13 short of a majority) they can rely on the support of at least one party on any number of issues. From the Trans Mountain Pipeline to pharmacare and climate action, the Liberals can count on support from either one of the Cons or NDP at any given time.
The notion that l’affaire SNC-Lavalin will come back to rear its head is equally in doubt. The Bloc won’t have it.
The election results are a new lease on life for Trudeau, whose supporters hope has learned a thing or two about hubris. The message from voters is clear: Canadians expect a more adult government.
For Scheer, the next test comes November 20. That’s when the Trudeau government is expected to announce its cabinet. Who Scheer decides to put in crucial critics’ roles will tell us a lot about where the party is headed. Only, there will have to be some bloodletting before then for Scheer to survive.