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The most prevalent criticism of Andrew Scheer is his lack of dynamism.
For the most part, he has been absent from the top of the news agenda since becoming Conservative leader in 2017.
A lack of splashy policy announcements, talking points that are middle-of-the-road with just a hint of Conservatism, and a personal style that is as unflashy as it comes does not endear one to primetime news.
The Conservative leader is hoping that the style that won him the party leadership can also win a general election. As a contrast to Trudeau, it couldn’t be more complete from a personal style perspective. He is the boring, benign, and steady option that the Liberals can’t use to scare voters.
If Bernier had won the Conservative leadership, the campaign would be bold chaotic, and dramatic. That’s the only campaign that would work for him. If a populist such as Doug Ford had won, there would be a concerted effort to grow the party through anti-establishment voters that switch between the right and the left.
The Conservative strategy is directly attached to the personality of the leader, in the case of Scheer and his leadership campaign some have described it as the “Stephen Harper with a smile” strategy.
It can be summarized in roughly three points.
First, keep the Conservative coalition of 2006 – 2015 intact. The Conservative vote is generally “sticky” with a high turnout rate and deep support levels.
Second, avoid becoming a target of Liberal attacks that could stick and propel turnout on a “stop Scheer” vote. If turnout is anywhere near last election’s 68.3%, there’s no chance for a Conservative victory.
Third, do whatever you can to help split the vote on the left.
Will it work? It’s going to be difficult. During the party leadership race, multiple viable candidates split the vote.
During this election, the NDP vote is collapsing and while the Green vote has expanded, it’s not enough to make up for the losses endured by Singh.
For there to be a viable path to victory for Scheer, the splits on the left need to grow and turnout needs to be around the 60% mark.
Either way, for Scheer, this really was the only strategy he could have pursued. Campaigns don’t start with a blank sheet of paper.
They start with your candidate.
The battle of who is the most progressive of them all
The outcome of this election will not be determined by the cut-and-thrust of the Conservative & Liberal debate.
If the Conservative strategy is successful, they will set themselves up to win if the splits on the left are deep enough.
Right now, it looks like good news for the Liberals. The ageing hipster of progressive parties, the NDP, are a shadow of their formal self with historic low voter support, dismal fundraising, mass defections, a fraying coalition and a leader that has not resonated with Canadians.
Mainstreet Research has the NDP at fourth place heading into the election at 8.4%, with the CBC aggregate poll tracker placing them at a more respectable 13.3%.
The wolves are circling the wounded NDP trying to take the scraps from the left-wing alliance that Jack Layton built between urban, cosmopolitan, environmentalist progressives and suburban and small-centre working-class voters.
This crisis began with the weakening of the new Quebec powerbase in the 2015 election under Mulcair. The latest polling indicates that the NDP are set to lose all their seats in Quebec, which will require Jagmeet Singh to make the difficult decision whether to abandon their Quebec seats to focus on closer ridings.
Unlike other elections, the NDP support won’t just leak to the Liberals. Voters who cite the environment as their number one concern now have a viable Green Party. Why join the protest party of the 20th century when you can join the protest party of the 21st?
The Green Party is entering this election in its strongest position ever with a message that resonates with urban progressive environmentalists and those wishing to “save the world.”
People like Elizabeth May and the Green Party. Other than being known as the party of environmentalists, they have operated with relative anonymity – the electorate isn’t quite clear what else they stand for.
Behind-the-scenes, you can expect the NDP and Liberal Party will be furiously doing background research on the Green Party’s 338 candidates. They expect to find what everyone else does: fringe candidates who can easily be used as symbols of the Green parties ‘radicalism.’
But the advantage remains with the Liberals. If the Green Party can overcome these challenges, they will still face the hard reality of the first-past-the-post system. With a voter base that is spread across the country with very little concentration, there is no reward for finishing third in every riding across Canada. According to the latest polling from Innovative Research Group, in their 15 strongest ridings from the last election, the Greens have moved from 17% of the vote to 20% – a gain that will not win them another seat.
While Trudeau is less sunny than the last election, he will present as a better option for progressives than a Conservative leader who will be portrayed throughout this campaign as a risky storm on the horizon. But it’s a long campaign – we will see whether progress and excitement or boring and steady wins the race.
John Penner is a consultant at StrategyCorp in government relations and communications. He was previously a senior staff member for the Minister of Finance under the Harper government.