It wasn’t the result many Conservatives were expecting, but Andrew Scheer managed to come from behind on Saturday and defeat Maxime Bernier by the smallest of margins to become the party’s next leader.
Global News chief political correspondent David Akin and former Conservative strategist Tim Powers joined The West Block‘s Vassy Kapelos to break down how Scheer pulled it off.
“What about this whole contest from day one hasn’t been a surprise?” Powers noted.
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The unexpected victory may have come down to a few factors.
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First, the Conservative Party’s electoral system means that ridings — not individual votes — matter most. Each riding across Canada is worth 100 points, and its those points that are ultimately tallied to decide the winner. But many ridings have just a handful of Conservative members, while others may have thousands upon thousands. They are all weighted equally.
“The quick anecdote about that is I think (Scheer) won the riding of Labrador, which had a whopping 11 members at the start of this, (then it) went to 23, he made outreach early,” Powers explained.
Scheer’s focus wasn’t on signing on large numbers of people, he said, but getting support where it really counted.
The other factor was the fact that outspoken social conservative Brad Trost did better than expected, coming in fourth. His supporters were always more likely to list Scheer before Bernier on their ranked ballots, so when Trost was dropped and his points redistributed, Scheer got the boost he needed.
Akin said the 38-year-old’s biggest challenge now won’t be party unity, but dodging attacks from the Liberals and NDP that paint him as too far-right and socially conservative to govern Canada.
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While Scheer has said he won’t reopen debates surrounding abortion, for example, he is personally pro-life.
“He’s gonna get it on that front,” Akin said.
“(Scheer) had big caucus support, only Erin O’Toole had more. Around the convention for the whole weekend I haven’t heard a lot of grumbling about, ‘If Scheer wins that’s it, I’m gonna rip up my membership card!’ I don’t think party unity is going to be the problem.”
“He’s going to have to do the tap dance that Stephen Harper did. But what I think what Scheer projects more than anything else is comfort.”
The new leader isn’t polarizing in the same way that Bernier might have been, he explained, and Scheer could potentially attract more Canadians to the Conservative brand. He also “projects a youthfulness” that could help the party with the Millennial demographic, where it struggles to find support.
“Arguably they may have a better chance of doing that with someone who looks like (millennials), faces the same challenges they’re facing and can speak to them, like them. That doesn’t mean there’s a mass conversion coming. But this could be a hidden asset.”
The expectation, he added, is that Scheer will try to build and grow the party before facing Justin Trudeau in late 2019.
“Is the expectation that he will beat Justin Trudeau? People may say that directly to your face, but I don’t know if they believe that.”
Watch the full panel discussion above.