Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s performance in the TVA French campaign debate was the death blow for his party’s electoral hopes, one failed Quebec candidate and former provincial political organizer suggests.
In an interview with the West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson about why Scheer failed to win over voters in Quebec — and whether he now needs to be replaced as leader — Tom Pentefountas said while the party’s increase in its share of the popular vote was “phenomenal,” two of the main barriers keeping the party from victory was Scheer’s evasion in responding to concerns about his opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
“The night of the TVA debate, that was the coup de grace for us. We continued to fight valiantly but that was a demarcation point unfortunately and after that, there was no coming back. People have no appetite for these issues,” said Pentefountas, who ran for the Conservatives in Laval-Les Îles this year and was a member of the executive of Action démocratique du Québec, the former right-wing provincial political party.
He said what Scheer needed to do was assure Quebec voters he recognized a “clear delineation” between personal faith and public policy, and that his failure to do that ultimately cost him the trust of Quebeckers — something Pentefountas predicted the party will not be able to win back without a different leader.
“We need in the short term to proceed to a leadership race and have a leader in place who can speak to Canadians and evacuate these social issues first and foremost, and can speak to Canadians in both official languages.”
Since losing the election two weeks ago, Scheer has been the target of attacks from party members, both anonymous and on the record, who argue his socially conservative opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage cost the party critical support in the seat-rich regions of the Greater Toronto Area and Quebec.
Because the Greater Toronto Area has so many of the seats in the House of Commons, whether a party resonates with voters there is a key determinant for whether they will be able to form government — and their share of seats in Quebec frequently determines whether a government is a minority or majority.
Scheer increased the Conservatives’ share of the popular vote and brought the party from 99 to 122 seats, but failed to fulfill repeated vows to the party faithful that he would secure them a majority government.
Given the Liberals were carrying the weight of the SNC-Lavalin scandal and the revelation that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had repeatedly worn blackface and brownface, former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay last week compared Scheer’s loss to “having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net.”
He also called Scheer’s opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage a “stinking albatross” hung around his neck by Scheer’s failure to address his views in a way that reassured voters.
Peter Van Loan, also a former Conservative cabinet minister under Stephen Harper’s government, said in an interview on the West Block that Scheer’s views came to dominate the campaign conversation because the party failed to put forward the kind of bold policy that would have given voters something to chew on.
“Looking back, I think where the weakness of the Conservative campaign was was the lack of a defining platform plank that could’ve been the ballot question,” Van Loan said. “Some kind of exciting, clear, challenging issue — probably on the economic front or job creation front, taxation front — something like that that people could debate and have the election about.”
He said while he felt Scheer’s responses to questions on his socially conservative positions were adequate, not having a defining platform plank left space for those concerns to become prominent in the minds of voters.
“They were able to fill out that space because nothing else was doing that.”
Van Loan said, to him, the test of whether a leader can stay on after failing to win an election is whether they moved the needle forward — he says since Scheer did that, he deserves a second chance.
But he stressed the party needs to “go back to the drawing table” to come up with “bold policy steps” that can win over those critical voters in the GTA.
Pentefountas, who was appointed by Harper as vice-chairman of the CRTC in 2011, disagreed and said Scheer needs to go.
“Losing an election on things you can’t control is one thing,” he said.
“Losing an election to things you can entirely control is completely unacceptable.”