The Conservative Party of Canada has at long last concluded its leadership race, a final 13 ballot runoff gradually eliminating all the hopefuls but one. When the dust cleared, normative favorite Maxime Bernier found himself on the wrong side of history, just one more castoff in the pile.
Instead, it was Andrew Scheer, a trailing second in polls leading up to the election, who took the top job. Scheer, a 38-year old father of five from Saskatchewan, took the 13th ballot with 50.95% to Bernier’s 49.05%. In doing so, he poses a question to Canada that we’ll need to see answered by 2019:
Who is Andrew Scheer?
Let’s start with what we know: he’s been described as “Stephen Harper with a smile,” a compliment within party ranks but no great tagline when looking to reach out to voters disenchanted with the former Prime Minister. A practicing Catholic, he is personally opposed to gay marriage and abortion; unlike rival Brad Trost, however, Scheer states he has no desire to reopen the public debate on either issue (again not unlike Harper) and feels he is not beholden to his party’s more socially conservative wing on these issues.
Scheer’s win comes as a blowback to the rising tide of populism around the globe; in a leadership race that faced the threat of not one but two Trump-style candidates (reality TV business blowhard Kevin O’Leary and “extreme vetter” Kellie Leitch), the Conservatives consistently put more moderate options atop the polls. Interestingly, this is despite polling also revealing praise for Trump and Le Pen among the Conservative base.
Perhaps it looks different when it’s at home.
Scheer’s proposition for “business-as-usual” conservative politics made him, in the words of one conservative pollster, the “Goldilocks candidate” – not too hot (Michael Chong’s radical shift on carbon policy), not too cold (Maxime Bernier’s willingness to abandon supply management, starving him of essential votes in Quebec). Whether that makes him tepid, lukewarm or “just right” will depend on how he can present the Conservative Party brand to a Canada watching an ugly right-wing circus play out to the south.
I’m not generally one for right-wing policy solutions, but I am hopeful that Mr. Scheer’s ability to distinguish between personal beliefs and reasoned policy objectives presages a more measured approach in the general sense. Perhaps with two younger voices leading major parties in Canada, we can find a new comity in the House of Parliament. I would welcome reasoned debate on Canada’s future and the challenges of the 21st century between Mr. Scheer and Prime Minister Trudeau. I won’t hold my breath, having seen enough of what Parliament traditionally considers “reasoned debate,” but if Scheer can chart a more reasoned course for his party, away from the toxicity of a figure like Kellie Leitch, then perhaps such competence will challenge other political leaders to step up and do better.
In summary, congratulations to Mr. Scheer; I doubt that I’ll find much common ground with you, but at the very least I think Canada should hear you out.