The economy. Justin Trudeau. Free speech. His deceased mother. Islamic State.
On every subject, no matter how sad or serious, Andrew Scheer would smirk. It was weird. His rictus was so off-putting, I started to forget what he was actually saying.
For him, that was pretty fortunate. Minutes after he won the Conservative Party of Canada leadership on Saturday, Scheer took to the stage at the Toronto Congress Centre and gave a speech that was so stilted and stiff that it made the worst high school student council contestant sound positively Churchillian.
The only time Scheer stirred the crowd was when he promised to withhold funding from universities where “free speech” isn’t protected. Never mind that universities are wholly the jurisdiction of the provinces. Never mind that there are instances where universities are perfectly entitled to object to Holocaust denial or the specialization of children. Never mind all that.
Remember J. Philippe Rushton, I shouted at my TV set? The University of Western Ontario professor who taught that blacks had smaller brains, and who asked his students about their genitalia for his research? You okay with that kind of “free speech,” Scheer?
It got worse, as Scheer smirked his way from one microphone to another. At one point, he kind of leered at CBC’s Peter Mansbridge and said: “I have committed to having a debate at any subject.”
Any subject. Smirk.
We all knew what he must be talking about. The shockingly-large social conservative contingent – the ones who had propelled anti-gay, anti-women candidates like Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux to near the very top of the leadership ballot – wanted abortion and gay marriage banned again. And Scheer seemed to be saying, in effect: “I’m your guy. We’ll have a ‘debate’ about any subject, including that stuff. Wink, wink.”
Before he left the convention centre, Scheer – who voted against gay equality whenever the subject came up in the House – claimed that abortion and gay marriage weren’t up for debate “under my leadership.” But the damage was done.
Everyone knew what he truly meant, because everyone knew who had put him over the top. So said Postmedia’s John Ivison: “If Scheer wins, it will be because of social conservatives.”
Other media were on to him, too. A while ago, the indefatigable Rosie Barton went after Scheer on a CBC show. Here’s a segment:
“Barton: But do you, yourself, believe [in gay marriage]?
Scheer: I, it’s, look, I don’t – it’s absolutely – our party dealt with this issue in Vancouver and, you know, there was a specific policy plank in our platform, and I think members decided, a lot of social conservatives who, you know, have differing views on that decided, look, if it’s not something that’s ever going to be changed, it’s been this way for 10 years. I have my own personal beliefs and, you know, my own faith background, but at this point in time with the Conservative Party of Canada trying to build a national viable coalition, it’s not something that. …
Barton: But that sounds like you’re just going to, you’re going to live with it. You’re going to live with the fact that gay people can get married – it’s not, but it’s not something you believe in.
Scheer: Look, it doesn’t matter, like if people have personal views on things, there’s a lot of things that divide us as Conservatives and there’s a lot of things that unite us. This is one of those issues that – it’s a – it happened in 2005, you know I was a member of Parliament at the time, I voted my conscience.
Get that? “It doesn’t matter,” and “I voted my conscience.” It was slipperiest answer any politician has given since Brian Mulroney was returned to the salons of the Ritz-Carlton.
His “conscience.” Smirk.
The shorthand on Scheer, when anyone paid any attention to him at all, was that he was “Stephen Harper with a smile.” You’d hear it a lot.
How, exactly, is that a winning formulation? Harper was beaten, soundly, by that guy Conservatives all mostly hate but whom Canadians mostly like. Did you think it was because Harper didn’t smile nearly enough, and Justin Trudeau smiles a lot? Seriously?
Scheer, however, was the least objectionable of an objectionable lot (to them). Michael Chong liked carbon taxes and had become a bit player in a psychodrama about breastfeeding. Maxime Bernier angered the lobby representing millionaire Quebec dairy farmers. Lisa Raitt was, well, a woman – just like Hillary Clinton! So they picked Scheer, the grinning, smirking former Speaker of the House of Commons.
Not that it matters now, but here’s one thing to consider: Scheer was the worst Speaker in generations. He once refused to let the opposition ask questions about the Harper government’s spending of taxpayer dollars. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, flabbergasted, put it best: “If the Speaker of the House of Commons is going to try to shut down questions about government business from the Leader of the Official Opposition before he even hears the end of the question, then we’ve entered new territory, and I’m telling you right now I’m not going to be told to sit down on questions that have to do with the public and that have to do with government business.”
That was the duplicitous Scheer: quite all right with cutting off the “free speech” of those he opposed. Mr Free Speech guy, then, is only in favour of free speech for those with whom he agrees.
Anyway. The social conservative multitudes have made their choice. They wanted Trost or Lemieux or – failing either – Scheer.
They got him.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.