The race to replace Andrew Scheer is turning into a dog-and-pony show

After more than a decade of tacking right under Harper – and arguably further right under Scheer – the Conservative movement has hit a ceiling



For someone who spent most of his political career cast as agitator-in-chief, Pierre Poilievre is getting a lot more ink than he deserves among those being talked about in Conservative party circles as a potential successor to Andrew Scheer.

Poilievre is not what the party needs right now – another Harper-era sycophant from the party’s Reform base who’s dodgy on same-sex marriage and abortion.

But there was CTV weighing in last week with some holiday filler on how Poilievre is the most likely to succeed Scheer. That story was based on the opinion of one party insider, which should rate as a thin gruel on which to base a conclusion.

To be sure, Poilievre has been one of Parliament’s most polarizing figures. He’s earned the nickname Skippy for his exuberance in defending his party’s political interests, no matter what. To say it’s been comical at times would be an understatement. Poilievre is the kinda guy that gets blocked on Twitter. (Full disclosure). Funny thing is, however, is that Poilievre best represents the geist of the current party perhaps better than any of the other names being kicked around to replace Scheer.

And therein lies the dilemma for the Cons. After more than a decade of tacking right under Harper – and arguably further right under Scheer – the Conservative movement has hit a ceiling. Its appeal to populist sentiment has resulted in the party’s base of power reverting to a facsimile of its former Reform wing.

Where to from here?

For some party insiders, the results of the recent federal election suggest a new leader with socially progressive views is enough to unseat Trudeau. For others, nothing short of a wholesale change in direction is needed for the party to win in Ontario and Quebec. So far, the unofficial race to replace Scheer is shaping up to be a bit of a dog-and-pony show. 

Suffering from saviour complex

Rona Ambrose’s name has come up a lot in public opinion polls among Conservatives when they’re asked who’d make the best replacement for Scheer. She has practically been anointed party saviour.

There is good reason to like Ambrose. She served ably as interim leader after Harper’s departure. She looks good on paper. She’s also the choice of Ontario Conservatives. She scores well with seniors and affluent voters, which are among the party’s core constituents.

But if it’s a break from the past that the party is looking for, then her record as a Harper loyalist poses a problem. It includes a number of questionable votes, including a motion to essentially reopen the abortion debate in 2012.

And who could forget her performance as environment minister, which was nothing short of a disaster? Besides making a mess of Canada’s Kyoto obligations, Ambrose is also remembered as part of the climate-change-denying cabal in the Harper government that muzzled scientists. She also served as minister for western economic diversification under Harper, and we’re all witnessing the fallout from that failed experiment as energy sector workers losing their jobs have nowhere to turn.

And if we’re being brutally honest, the fact Ambrose is a woman will hurt more than help her chances in a party whose views are mostly dominated these days by white guys angry at “globalists” and “elites.”

The old guard versus the new

Peter MacKay has been plotting to take over the party ever since he left politics to get married and raise a family. In fact, some would say MacKay has been plotting to reclaim the position he believes is rightfully his since he made that deal with the devil (Stephen Harper) in 2003 and the Progressive Conservative party led by MacKay was absorbed by the Canadian Alliance to form the Conservative Party of Canada.

Harper went on to serve as PM. And MacKay would occupy a number of important portfolios in successive Conservative governments. But the relationship with Harper was one borne out of necessity rather than a mutual belief that the future of conservatism is populist.

The scion of the MacKay family has got the money to mount a challenge. And he has reportedly assembled a team that includes former PM Brian Mulroney. He seems to have learned a few tricks from Brian when it comes to orchestrating a coup. But MacKay is long past his best-before date. And if it’s excitement the Cons are looking for, then MacKay’s not it.

On the outside looking inward

Some pundits argue that what the Cons need is an outsider to break from the party’s Harper-era past, but don’t bet on it. Ekos Research polled Conservative Party members on their choices and the results were more of the same. Jason Kenney (who says he’s not interested), Michelle Rempel (good luck with that) and, yes, Stephen Harper, were among those on the list. This is clearly not a party looking for radical change. The only outsider to speak of was Jordan Peterson, who scores well among the party’s young male base.

But more recently, Jean Charest has been mentioned as a possibility. The former PC leader who left federal politics to become a Liberal premier of Quebec, has been exploring a return to the political ring. Former NDP leader Tom Mulcair says it’s a done deal, and that Charest’s friends in Toronto are laying the groundwork.

Charest would be quite a leap. Given Western tensions over provincial cost-sharing agreements, there would seem to be little appetite in the current incarnation of the party for a leader from Quebec. And then there’s the cloud of corruption hanging over Charest (related to construction contracts) that led to his departure from politics. He could always explain that away to say it was to save Quebec jobs, right?

Now you see ‘em

One minute John Baird was being touted as a dark horse to watch, the next he was gone among the names of serious contenders.

The former Harper cabinet minister was enlisted by the party to investigate how the Cons made a mess of the election. Then Scheer unexpectedly resigned and it seemed to many Conservatives that the choice to replace him was staring them right in the face in Baird. As Harper’s designated attack dog in the House (and before that under Ontario premier Mike Harris), Baird certainly has the chops to go toe-to-toe with Trudeau.

But the reasons for Baird’s departure from the party back in 2015 continue to be the subject of much speculation. Was it over the Harper government’s opposition to recognition of same-sex marriage? Was he jumping ship because the writing was on the wall for the Cons under Harper in the lead-up to the 2015 election? Or did it have to do with his notorious lifestyle choices? There have been more revelations about that last bit lately.

Baird has the bona fides. The smart money would be on him, if his chances haven’t already been upended by rumblings about his past.

@nowtoronto

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