COMMENTARY: Conservatives will be better off with a new leader — if they understand where Scheer went wrong

Scheer’s sudden resignation surprised Conservatives
The race to replace the Conservative Party's leader is underway, barely 24 hours after Andrew Scheer announced his resignation.

It was a fitting end to Andrew Scheer’s rocky tenure as Conservative Party leader that somehow even his resignation managed to turn into a huge mess.

Look, no one should have any doubt about the time commitment involved in leading a major political party and we can certainly take Scheer at his word that his job as leader has put tremendous pressure on his family.

But citing that as a reason for resigning might have been a little more credible if he’d done so on Oct. 22 rather than on Dec. 12. I suppose it’s even fair to ask why he ran for the leadership in the first place, then. But it’s hard to believe that he suddenly realized all of this after having not only contested an election but after repeatedly vowing in the aftermath of that election that he wasn’t going anywhere.

Moreover, rather than go out on his own terms following the election and going out as someone who put party interests above his own, Scheer goes out under a cloud.

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READ MORE: COMMENTARY: Andrew Scheer didn’t know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em

Ultimately it’s the aftermath of Scheer’s resignation that helps to illustrate why it was so inevitable in this first place: Conservatives aren’t all that sad to see him go. There was no vocal and enthusiastic pro-Scheer faction fighting for his job and no indication that any Conservatives are prepared to quit the party in disgust.

A successful party leader is one who the base can feel enthusiastic about, but who can also have a broader appeal. A successful party leader is someone who is feared by his or her rivals. Andrew Scheer may be a perfectly nice guy, but he meets none of that criteria.

It seems shallow and simplistic to say our political leaders need to have pizzazz and charisma, although those qualities certainly don’t hurt. But, if nothing else, you need to be able to demonstrate some kind of passion, some obvious sign that you’re driven by something.

Scheer tells Trudeau he’ll get ‘no free rides’ as Conservatives search for new leader
Scheer tells Trudeau he’ll get ‘no free rides’ as Conservatives search for new leader

With Scheer, it was never obvious. One would be hard-pressed to define his politics, which is why you could simultaneously have someone like Maxime Bernier argue that Scheer had pulled the party to the left, and have voices on the left portray Scheer as some sort of ultra-conservative.

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The rather uninspiring Conservative platform probably didn’t help matters. Certainly, the blame for the election results goes well beyond Scheer, and Conservatives could be setting themselves up for another disappointment if they think a new leader will be a panacea. Leaders definitely matter — maybe more than they should — but so, too, do ideas. After all, a more effective communicator still needs something to communicate.

Part of that conversation for Conservatives needs to involve getting past the hang-ups of the past and not getting bogged down on social issues. The party has certainly made strides on that in recent years, but part of what will go down as Scheer’s failures is that he took the party a step backward.

READ MORE: COMMENTARY: Earth to Andrew Scheer — never tick off Stephen Harper

What was so damaging about the past statements and videos of Scheer talking about same-sex marriage and abortion is that it showed the kind of genuine and passionate Scheer that otherwise seemed so absent in his leadership. His explanations for how or whether his views had changed were seriously lacking.

Much was made of Scheer’s refusal to march in any Pride parades. The real question, though, is not whether a Conservative leader has done so or not, but what their reaction would be if they were invited to one. Canadians might not have mandatory participation as a requirement for a prime minister, but it’s not unreasonable to expect a would-be prime minister to not be freaked out by the idea.

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Reaction pours in from the west on Andrew Scheer’s resignation as Conservative leader
Reaction pours in from the west on Andrew Scheer’s resignation as Conservative leader

Social conservatives needn’t be purged from the party, but if Conservatives are genuine in their assertions that these matters are settled, then they need a leader who isn’t saddled with the same sort of baggage as Scheer. It’s hard to convince Canadians that your party has moved on when your leader is so unconvincing in doing so.

None of this is to suggest that Scheer was a disaster as leader, but he clearly had some significant shortcomings that would have remained a liability going forward. The challenge for the Conservatives is whether they can avoid the same mistakes going forward.