Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer is resigning.
But he says he will stay on as leader until his replacement is chosen and continue to serve as MP for Regina—Qu’Appelle.
His resignation comes as a direct result of new revelations that he was using Conservative Party money to pay for his children’s private schooling, according to Conservative sources who spoke with Global News.
Senior Conservatives say the expenditures were made without the knowledge or approval of the Conservative fund board, including the chair of the board.
There are also calls for the party’s executive director, Dustin van Vugt, to resign over the decision to pay the schooling expenses.
According to multiple sources, only a tight circle of insiders knew that the party was reimbursing Scheer for the cost of his children’s private schooling and that news erupted over the last several days inside the party.
The resulting anger focused on what sources described as the lack of transparency about that reimbursement as well as concerns about how it would look to the public.
Global News has also learned that former prime minister Stephen Harper didn’t know about the arrangement and is “very angry” about how Scheer used the money.
In a public statement announcing his decision to resign as leader, Scheer did not address the concerns raised by those party sources to Global News. His office says the suggestion that his resignation is linked to the issue of private school reimbursement is false.
Scheer attributed the decision to the strains of his public duties on his family.
“I just informed my colleagues in the Conservative caucus that I will be resigning as the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and I will be asking the Conservative Party national council to immediately begin the process of organizing a leadership contest,” Scheer said in remarks in the House of Commons shortly after the news broke.
“In order to chart the course ahead in the direction this party is heading, the party needs someone who can give 100 per cent.”
READ MORE: Andrew Scheer’s full resignation speech
Scheer urged members to stay focused and vowed whoever wins the leadership contest will have his full support.
“My only ask to my fellow Conservatives is this: let’s stay united.”
Tory MPs unanimously agreed to support Scheer as interim leader at an emergency caucus meeting on Thursday, Conservative caucus chair Tom Kmiec told reporters.
Asked about the school tuition issue, Kmiec said, “That’s not what we talked about today.”
He later said Scheer “did address some of the articles that have come out” but added that the main issue discussed was the party’s constitution and making sure MPs “do right” by the membership.
It was initially unclear whether Scheer’s decision to stay on until his replacement is chosen would satisfy those who had been calling for his removal, particularly in light of the news he had been using party money to pay for the private education of four of his five children.
The youngest is not yet in school.
In a statement on Thursday, van Vugt said he had offered to cover the costs.
“As is the normal practice for political parties, the Party offered to reimburse some of the costs associated with being a national leader and re-locating the family to Ottawa,” van Vugt said in the statement.
“Shortly after Mr. Scheer was elected leader, we had a meeting where I made a standard offer to cover costs associated with moving his family from Regina to Ottawa. This includes a differential in schooling costs between Regina and Ottawa. All proper procedures were followed and signed off on by the appropriate people.”
LISTEN: Ottawa Bureau Chief, Mercedes Stephenson with the details on why Scheer resigned
Scheer’s decision to have his children in private schools differs from the choices of his most recent contemporaries.
Former Conservative leader Stephen Harper, mentor to Scheer, stressed the value of public school in helping keep his two children from being cloistered.
Trudeau also has his three children in Ottawa public schools and has spoken about the value of the public system.
There are no rules in the Elections Canada Act that appear to directly apply in this situation.
A spokesperson for Elections Canada noted the agency governs party spending during elections and leadership campaigns; what the party chooses to spend its money on once a leader is elected is effectively up to them, so long as it doesn’t violate any party bylaws or administrative ethics rules in the House of Commons.
Now 40, Scheer has been making a salary of between roughly $170,000 and $180,000 since he was first elected in 2004 at the age of 25.
On top of that, he received a salary boost of $85,000 when he was elected Speaker of the House of Commons in 2011 and at that point received the use of a driver and taxpayer-funded housing at the official residence known as The Farm in Kingsmere, Que.
He was elected leader of the Conservatives in 2017 and switched official residences to Stornoway, the traditional home of the leader of the official opposition, in Ottawa’s Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood.
Scheer is not the first political leader to get extra financial incentives from his party.
In March 2008, the Quebec Liberal Party revealed that then-premier Jean Charest was receiving an extra $75,000 salary on top of his official salaries as an elected official in opposition and government.
Charest said he had received this salary ever since becoming leader of the Quebec Liberals in 1998.
However, he announced two years later, in May 2010, that he would renounce the salary, in the wake of a series of controversies about ethics.
Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt said a key question going forward will be to what extent Conservative officials were aware of the situation.
“It may be off-brand for the Conservatives, but I don’t think any reasonable person would say that it’s a criminal offence to spend a salary top-up on personal items,” he said.
Scheer has been facing an uprising within the party for weeks over concerns that his socially conservative views cost the party a stronger showing in the election, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won with a minority government.
Scheer has refused to march in Pride parades and is opposed to abortion, both issues that Conservative Party insiders have flagged as major problems for voters in the ridings of the Greater Toronto Area and Quebec, both key to determining which party will form government.
He would have faced an automatic leadership review at the Conservative convention in Toronto in April 2020.
Trudeau and other party leaders offered brief remarks following Scheer’s resignation announcement.
“I very much wish him all the very, very best in his next and exciting steps, whatever they may be, be they here in the house or beyond. I want to thank him deeply for his service to Canada on behalf of all Canadians.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford also offered his best wishes for Scheer.
“I wish Andrew Scheer all the best as he undertakes this new chapter in his life, and thank him for his service as the head of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and leader of the Conservative Party.”
With files from Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson, Andrew Russell and Mike De Souza.