How Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer doesn’t understand this is an enduring mystery. He never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity, per the cliché.
Take (please) Conservative MP Gerry Ritz. Last week, Ritz – who (a) thinks he is funny and (b) has unfettered access to a Twitter account – tweeted that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was “climate Barbie.”
That she isn’t was obvious. That folks would consider that sexist and inappropriate was obvious. That Ritz was a troglodyte was also obvious.
Ritz is (blessedly) soon to be departing the federal scene for his cave. So long, don’t let the woolly mammoth skin hit you on the way out.
Cro-Magnon eruptions on social media are commonplace, sadly. Even though they cost Alberta’s Wildrose an election – and even though the lunatic tweets of U.S. President Donald Trump will ultimately figure prominently in the indictments he should face – conservative types still do them.
So, what Ritz tweeted wasn’t the conservative exception. It was the conservative rule. It shouldn’t have shocked anyone.
What was surprising, however, was the reaction of Ritz’s putative leader, Scheer. Instead of recognizing that his MP’s Barbie eruption was an opportunity, not a problem – instead of stepping up to a gaggle of microphones and condemning sexism and what Ritz said and giving him the boot – Scheer issued a mealey-mouthed statement and headed for the exits.
Politicians, like everyone else, only get one opportunity to make a first impression. Ritz’s idiocy was an opportunity for Scheer to show he won’t tolerate Tory troglodytes. But he didn’t do that. He didn’t do the right thing.
Nor did he do the right thing when Conservative Sen. Lynn Beyak blew off both her feet, a few days earlier. Beyak, also known to be a proud member of the Red Chamber’s Caveperson Caucus, has long been known as an anti-Indigenous nutbar.
Former Tory leader Rona Ambrose previously kicked Beyak off a committee when Beyak paid tribute to Canada’s fascistic experiment with residential schools. More recently, Beyak was removed from the Senate’s agriculture, transport and defence committees for saying Indigenous people should lose their status – and for opining that Indigenous culture should be promoted only “on their own dime, on their own time.”
Scheer allowed that Beyak didn’t speak for the rest of the Conservative caucus. And one of his senatorial members intoned that the party had “concluded our deliberations and the parties have agreed to a set of measures to guide the senator going forward. We consider the matter closed.”
Well, no. It isn’t.
Like Ritz, Beyak is still a card-carrying member of Scheer’s caucus. And, as with Ritz, the Beyak case reminds everyone that Scheer may be many things. But a leader is not one of them.
Voters – and consumers, citizens and every sentient being – are astute. They know when you’re playing it safe. They know when you’re playing the ostrich and waiting for some controversy to blow over.
When they sense you’re a coward, they will tune you out, sometimes permanently. Or, even worse, they’ll decide that you have the much-maligned ‘hidden agenda.’ And that you are accordingly dishonest.
And that you may just agree with Ritz and Beyak.
Is it a risk to hammer Ritz and Beyak? Perhaps. There’s a constituency out there that agrees with them. It’s a constituency that faithfully votes Conservative. They may get mad at you for kicking out Fred and Wilma.
It’s a risk, perhaps.
And it’s a paradox: not taking risks is itself risky.
With Justin Trudeau’s government being buffeted by the small business tax mess, with their North American Free Trade Agreement strategy clearly at risk of being blown to smithereens by Trump, with Liberal MPs grumbling in the media – with all those things happening, you should be doing a lot better. A lot.
Kicking out Gerry Ritz and Lynn Beyak may have been risky. It may have an internal challenge.
But it was an opportunity, too.
And you missed it.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.