New Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer gathers party at Parliament for first day
OTTAWA – New Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is basking in a hero’s welcome on Parliament Hill.
The Saskatchewan member of Parliament was feted by his fellow MPs and leadership rivals alike as he arrived to address the Tory caucus for the first time at the helm of the party.
He calls the role a great honour, but an even greater responsibility.
Scheer reprised his speech from Saturday night’s win, hailing the efforts of the other 12 candidates who sought the job and singling out Quebec MP Maxime Bernier in particular.
Bernier was the presumptive front-runner throughout the race and the leader throughout Saturday night’s nail-biting process of elimination, right up until the final ballot.
And he put Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government on notice that the Conservatives will be putting up a fierce fight in the runup to the 2019 election.
Scheer did have significant support among other elected MPs going into the campaign, about two dozen by the end of it. Many of the rest had backed fellow MP Erin O’Toole.
When O’Toole dropped off the ballot, it appeared most of his supporters had picked Scheer as their second choice, as that’s who won on the next, and final, round.
“I was on Erin O’Toole’s team but our team is 100 per cent behind Andrew now,” Edmonton MP Kerry Diotte wrote on Twitter.
Whether MP endorsements had anything to do with his win is hard to tell.
WATCH: Andrew Scheer wins Conservative leadership race
For example, in January, Scheer nabbed the endorsements of four Quebec MPs: Alain Rayes, Pierre Paul-Hus, Luc Berthold, and Sylvie Boucher.
On Saturday, two of their ridings voted in favour of Bernier, and two in favour of Scheer.
After his inaugural meeting with caucus Monday, Scheer will face some other milestones.
The Liberals are set to make a defence announcement mid-morning that, while not the long-awaited defence policy review, could be the first time Scheer will need to respond on a file.
He will also make his question period debut in the House of Commons as leader of the Opposition.
Scheer told CTV’s Question Period Sunday he had some ideas for a first question but hadn’t settled on it yet.
He won’t be posing it to Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as he’s out of the country on an official visit to Italy.
The political stakes have changed though for the Liberals, said Conservative strategist Alise Mills.
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Scheer is younger than Trudeau, and with more experience than the prime minister had when he took over the Liberal party, she said.
“Andrew is a parliamentarian through and through,” she said.
“He’s going to be very quick on his feet in question period.”
The Liberals are also aware the political playing field is different.
In a fundraising email Sunday, they pointed out the Conservatives just finished their leadership race, a time when parties can connect with more people, welcome new members and raise more money, and Liberals asked for equal support .
“We now know who our competition is – and all of our progress for a stronger middle class is at stake,” the email said.
Scheer also has to look beyond the Commons and put the party on course for the 2019 election.
WATCH: Andrew Scheer’s full acceptance speech after winning Conservative leadership race.
Central to success there will be victory in suburban and urban centres that the party lost in 2015. Scheer had mixed results there during the leadership campaign.
For example, in the Toronto riding lost by former finance minister Joe Oliver, Bernier triumphed with 67 per cent of points and he also took two out of three ridings in Etobicoke, the heart of the populist “Ford Nation” considered key to Conservative fortunes.
But in B.C., Scheer, nabbed the urban riding of Vancouver South – home to the current Liberal finance minister but Conservative before that – and also the suburban Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam, lost by the Tories in 2015 as well.
A question for all of the defeated leadership candidates, and MPs past and present, will be whether they will run for office under Scheer’s leadership.
Bernier said Saturday night he felt he still had a place, as did O’Toole.
“Proud to be your wingman as we fight for Canada,” O’Toole tweeted.
Scheer will have the task of figuring out who his wingmen, and women, will be in the Opposition shadow cabinet.
People close to his campaign said he struck no deals in that regard during the leadership race, and it’s likely he’ll leave the current organizational structure in place over the summer and return with a refreshed bench for the fall parliamentary sitting.
© 2017 The Canadian Press