Andrew Scheer announced on Dec. 12 that he would be stepping down as federal Conservative leader. Whoever succeeds him faces a tall task.
Most political analysts knew that Scheer would have a real tussle on his hands to survive next April’s planned leadership review.
He’d been attacked by the left and right flanks of his party within days of losing the Oct. 21 federal election.
The fact that he’d picked up 26 seats, won the popular vote and reduced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to a minority government meant little to some Tory activists and supporters. They were dissatisfied with his election performance and displeased with his perceived communication skills (or lack thereof).
They felt he’d tripped up during the controversies related to his former role in the insurance industry and previously unknown dual citizenship in the U.S. They believed his social conservative values were out of step with modern Canadian values.
Yet Scheer’s decision literally came out of thin air. He’d just picked his party’s shadow critics two weeks prior to this announcement. For all intents and purposes, it appeared he was going to stay on and fight for his job.
What caused this sudden reversal?
No one is exactly sure.
He told Parliament “this party, this movement, needs someone who can give 100 per cent to the efforts.” After some reflection, he no longer felt he could do this – and wanted to spend more time with his family. It’s not easy being a politician, so that certainly makes sense. (He said he wished to remain as leader until a replacement is chosen, and that was unanimously approved by the party caucus.)
But it was also revealed he’d used some of the money afforded to him by the Conservative Fund to pay for his children’s private schooling. The decision was above board, and political leaders often get money from their parties related to expenses such as travel, moving and accommodations.
Nevertheless, some of the fund’s directors reportedly didn’t know how Scheer planned to use these funds and were displeased with his choice. So maybe this caused another layer of tension that he simply didn’t want to deal with.
No matter the reason, Scheer will be gone within a few months. How the history books will treat his tumultuous two years as Tory leader remains to be seen.
One thing is clear: His successor will face many challenges.
The Tories aren’t as ideologically cohesive as their left-leaning opponents. The party has defined principles and a policy platform, but they don’t require or demand that every single member and political candidate sings from the same songbook.
They strongly believe in intellectual discourse and free expression, and the various groups within the political tent – including Red Tories, Blue Tories, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, libertarians and right-leaning independents – are more than happy to engage in heated discussions related to everything from incomes taxes to abortion.
Hence, it takes an individual with particular qualities to lead the Tories. He or she has be intelligent, confident, experienced, affable, extroverted, possess strong oratorial skills, policy knowledge and many miles of backbone, and have the ability to build and maintain political bridges.
No one expects every prospective leadership candidate to have a checkmark next to each category. But in the case of several former Conservative leaders, including Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper, they had most of those qualities – and used them successfully.
The next federal Tory leader will have to work hard to keep these groups under the Canadian conservative tent content and work in their best interests.
That person will have to rebuild relationships that were lost during Scheer’s leadership. That person will have to prove his/her small “c” conservative credentials appeal to the smaller Red Tory wings and larger Blue Tory wing.
That person will have to connect with non-conservative Canadians from all walks of life, and show that his or her conservative values are, in fact, their values.
Can it be done?
Yes and it’s happened before.
Can it be done easily?
I’m afraid not.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.