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Tory frustration with Scheer ‘not just an elephant in the room’: former Harper campaign boss

WATCH ABOVE: Conservatives debate whether party leader Andrew Scheer should step down

Frustration about Andrew Scheer’s continued Conservative leadership is sucking up all the oxygen from every other topic the party should be examining, and he needs to be replaced for that reason, a former top Tory says.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Jenni Byrne, former campaign director for Stephen Harper, said there’s a risk posed to the party if Scheer continues fighting to stay on as leader.

The infighting between his supporters and those who want a new leader, she says, will detract from providing substantive opposition and policy alternatives to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the upcoming minority session of parliament.

READ MORE: After week of challenges, Scheer heads to Conservative heartland of Alberta

“The last week, it has gripped the party in a way that nothing else is being discussed and it’s going to continue to do that leading into the leadership race,” Byrne said.

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“If we continue to do that, we are going to do nothing but give Justin Trudeau a free ride in terms of the next five months, because that’s all people are talking about.

“It is not just an elephant in the room —  it is a bunch of elephants in the room and that is all that people are talking about.”

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Scheer has been on the receiving end of punches from social conservatives and progressive conservatives alike over the last several weeks as he has defied calls for him to step down, insisting he’ll remain on as leader — despite several prominent defections and critiques from party supporters.

Long-time Conservative senator Jean-Guy Dagenais quit the Tory caucus two weeks ago, saying Scheer’s opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion makes him untenable as leader, since those are positions out of sync with the majority of Canadians in seat-rich Quebec.

READ MORE: Tory Senator quits caucus over Andrew Scheer’s social conservative views

And calls for Scheer to step back escalated last week with the formation of groups pushing for his ouster, including one run by the Conservative behind the Canada Proud network for right-wing social media accounts.

At a meeting with caucus members and failed candidates in Montreal, Scheer received lashing, followed by a mixed bag from grassroots campaign organizers and candidates around the Ottawa area later in the week where he was urged to change course.

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Social conservative groups are also openly calling for Scheer’s head, arguing he betrayed their support by not taking a stronger stance opposing abortion and same-sex marriage.

Growing calls for Scheer to quit as Conservative leader
Growing calls for Scheer to quit as Conservative leader

Despite the combined voices that have spoken out against Scheer, there are others still advocating for him to keep his job.

Among those loyalists is Garnett Genuis, MP for the Alberta riding of Sherwood Park–Fort Saskatchewan.

READ MORE: COMMENTARY: Will Canadian social conservatives sink Andrew Scheer?

In a panel rebuttal to Byrne, he said he doesn’t believe the voices speaking out against Scheer represent a groundswell in grassroots opposition to him and that if there is concrete opposition, that should be made clear at the party convention.

“I do not share that characterization of the grassroots opinion but we’re going to find out in April. Clearly there are individuals who have a different point of view,” he said.

“I say, if you think the members are on your side, hey, let’s spend the next few months challenging the Trudeau minority government, let’s have the vote in April, let’s see where it goes and then, if it’s the will of the members, we’ll have a leadership race.”

Scheer unveils leadership team as party faces turmoil
Scheer unveils leadership team as party faces turmoil