Adios, Andrew Scheer.
In a sorry end to a sorry election, the Conservative leader has now (finally) stepped down.
After weathering the indictments of his former campaign director, his communications director, the Quebec Conservative wing and the backers of the Scheermustgo.ca website, Scheer’s leadership ultimately foundered on the revelation that the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) was funding four of his children’s private school tuitions.
Not only was this unwelcome news to some of the higher-ups within Conservative ranks, but it clashed with the “Everyman” persona Scheer had sought to cultivate since taking office. And so, exit stage right.
It didn’t have to be this way. Scheer should have listened to Kenny Rogers: “Know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run.”
Instead, he burrowed like a groundhog, hoping to tough it out until the spring, when the Tories are holding their annual convention. He rejigged his staff and declared his intentions to fight on while simultaneously stating he would never march in a Pride parade. He became a walking contradiction: a man who wanted to take the party forward while repeating the mistakes of the past.
In Scheer’s case, remarkably, the grumbling started even before the votes were counted. In the final weeks of the election, backers of former cabinet minister Peter MacKay mouthed off to the media about how they weren’t sure Scheer would deliver. Turns out they were right, but the timing was unprecedented. Saving the vitriol for later: fair game. Spewing it ahead of E-Day: toxic.
In the end, Scheer’s exit was inevitable, despite some notable accomplishments. Yes, he grew the Tories’ vote count and seat count. Yes, the Conservatives won more of the popular vote than the Liberals.
But no, this did not ultimately matter because the growth did not translate into government. Routing the Liberals in Western Canada is great, but unless you also win a significant chunk of the 905 and Quebec, you’re still bunking at Stornoway.
In Ontario and Quebec, the Tories lost support because of a classic nemesis: the Hidden Agenda. It wasn’t just Scheer’s views on abortion and LGBTQ2 rights that chafed, but the pains he took not to talk about them. Then voters learned that he was a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S. Then he had apparently fudged his insurance credentials. Bit by bit, the Everyman image crumbled.
This broke trust with voters. Who was this guy, they asked? How can we believe that he won’t bring in laws to restrict abortion? In Quebec, voters hived off to the Bloc Québécois, while in Ontario, enough held their noses and voted Liberal for Trudeau to win a minority. The result is a country fractured along political, social and economic lines in a way we haven’t seen since the heyday of the Quebec sovereignty movement in the 1980s and 1990s.
So where do the Conservatives go from here? The Tories first have to decide how long or short they want this leadership race to be, and whether they will turn the April convention into a leadership vote or hold a separate vote at a later date.
There are several considerations. In a minority situation, you never know when the government may fall and the writ may drop, so you have to be ready. At the same time, the party needs to find not only a leader but a raison d’etre. What direction will the party take on the economy? The environment? National unity? Social issues?
While a shorter campaign will get a leader in place quicker, the party must also take the time to examine what it means to be a Canadian Conservative in 2019.
Then, the question becomes who.
The top trending name on Day 1 is former interim CPC leader Rona Ambrose. She has the goods in spades: intelligent, articulate, proven and pleasant. Some critics in Quebec grumble that her French is not strong enough, but she is socially progressive enough to win support in that province. (Not coincidentally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is apparently considering her for ambassador to the United States, a post which would send her as far from the leadership race as possible.)
Padding out the list is a veritable who’s who in conservative circles, past and present: former premier of Saskatchewan Brad Wall, former premier of New Brunswick Bernard Lord, even former premier of B.C. Christy Clark.
Current Tory premiers Jason Kenney of Alberta and Doug Ford of Ontario have demurred, for now, but shouldn’t be counted out.
Then there’s the aforementioned MacKay, former MP Lisa Raitt, current Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips and federal MPs Erin O’Toole, Michelle Rempel, Michael Chong and Gerard Deltell.
And while Ontario Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney declined on Twitter, her brother Mark’s name is still circulating as a possible contender.
Whoever assumes the mantle will have a daunting task: uniting both disparate Conservatives and estranged Canadians. The fault lines are familiar: in the West, resource development and alienation; in the east, Quebec’s interests and social policies. And in the middle, Ontario, which incarnates the urban-rural divide.
Finding a national vision that speaks to all these regions is a challenge that eluded Trudeau but would represent the key to a Conservative victory — and quite possibly, the future of Canada itself.
In a world that feels increasingly unstable, whether due to rapid technological change, climate extremes or the whims of erratic leaders, voters want reassurance. They want reassurance that there is a path forward, not one that will drain their pockets or limit their freedoms, but which will give them the space to make the life they want: a good standard of living, a community free from strife and conflict, a brighter future for their children. These values find common ground across regional lines, but the means of achieving them differs from place to place.
Oil workers in Alberta need to earn a living just as much as auto workers in Ontario or farmers in Quebec. But all their industries are under siege from forces of change, be they environmental, economic or demographic.
At the same time, the workforce of tomorrow seeks opportunities in the business of the future: in tech, in green energy, in the so-called sharing economy. But are these opportunities enough to sustain the way of life to which they have become accustomed? Rising costs of living and property threaten their ability to make their way; today, “adulting” has become a verb, a task that is taking longer and longer to accomplish.
Into this maelstrom, add the realities of immigration, Indigenous reconciliation, linguistic duality and ever-changing social norms, from family to gender identity. It’s a truism, but the only constant is change. The new Conservative leader must not only acknowledge changes that have taken place but inspire Canadians to navigate those of the future.
The path forward may be better reflected in the party’s former moniker: the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. This doesn’t mean the return to Red Toryism, which is predicated on an expanded role for the state in income support and class structure, but a balance of fiscal conservatism and social progressivism that would resonate with a greater swath of the electorate.
Ironically, it best finds expression in the famed “serenity” prayer by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”
Had Scheer abided by this maxim, he might have become prime minister. Let’s hope the next leader takes it to heart.
Tasha Kheiriddin is the founder and CEO of Ellipsum Communications and a Global News contributor.