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News the Conservative Party paid for private schooling of outgoing leader Andrew Scheer’s children was never intended for public consumption, but precipitated Scheer’s resignation, according to a 21-year-old, nascent party insider and co-founder of #ScheerMustGo.
“Spare me the spiel about your family. We all know what this was really all about and when (Scheer) saw the writing on the wall, he thought he would bow out,” Anthony Koch told The Post Millennial late Thursday afternoon, hours after Scheer’s House of Commons announcement that he was stepping down.
About the same time Scheer was addressing the Commons about his departure, Global News’ Parliament Hill bureau chief Mercedes Stephenson Tweeted that his resignation was over “party money to pay for his children’s private school education.”
Following Question Period, Conservative MP Ed Fast – who declined a critics role in Scheer’s Opposition benches; a symbolic rebuke of the party leader – said the private schooling perk “is a party matter” and that Scheer’s exit was dignified.
“All I will say is (Scheer) did it with dignity and grace and I expect I’ll have more to say in the coming days and weeks,” said Fast.
“He is putting the party first, the interests of Canadians first and the interests of his family first. And that’s why very much appreciate how he did it and all the credit.”
Conservative Tim Uppal, who made a comeback in the 2019 election by knocking out Liberal-incumbent and former Industry Minister Amerjeet Sohi, suggested Scheer’s exit was a foregone conclusion.
“I was surprised on the timing. I didn’t know about it but I wish him well. I respect that he’s taking time out to be with his family,” Uppal said.
“I came into work thinking it was just a regular day and things have definitely changed.”
Asked about the party picking up the Scheer family’s private school bill, Uppal would only say that “the party’s statement addressed that quite well.”
Shortly after Stephenson’s tweet, the Conservative Party’s executive director Dustin van Vugt issued a statement that Scheer “began to inform members of his staff earlier this week about his decision to resign.”
Van Vugt’s statement described the private school perk as “normal practice for political parties”.
“Shortly after Mr. Scheer was elected leader…I made a standard offer to cover costs associated with moving his family from Regina to Ottawa,” writes van Vugt.
“This includes a differential in schooling costs…all proper procedures were followed.”
But the way #ScheerMustGo co-founder Koch describes it, the information was floating around Conservative ranks for some time and was allegedly given to former Conservative MP and minister John Baird, who is currently conducting an internal review of the losing campaign.
“Initially it was divulged to Mr. Baird,” claims Koch, who said it came from former Scheer staffers.
“The path they wanted to take was give it to Baird and have the pressure be internal, have (Scheer) leave and then that way it doesn’t have to be this big media extravaganza. Unfortunately, other people had other ideas and that faction won out – that’s why it started to get sprinkled around.”
Baird was unreachable for comment prior to publication of this story.
As for Koch’s involvement with the party, he has worked for Conservative MPs in the past, including interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose; touted as a possible successor to Scheer.
The young Conservative and McGill University student said he never supported Scheer and instead worked on Dragon’s Den TV personality Kevin O’Leary’s leadership campaign and then for Maxime Bernier’s.
O’Leary ultimately bowed out of the race, while Scheer eventually won a narrow victory over Bernier.
Despite winning the popular vote and leading the Conservatives to a bigger seat share in the October general election, Scheer’s popularity has topped out, according to Koch who began working on the campaign to oust him “the day after” Trudeau won his minority government.
“And today, I’m a happy man,” said Koch.
According to Koch, he’s the youngest Conservative party member among a core group of 15 #ScheerMustGo enthusiasts who began making inroads and gathering support from likeminded Conservative caucus MPs that Koch declined to name.
“The greatest advantage that Andrew Scheer had going into the last election was that nobody knew who he was. The problem is, over the course of the election people got to know him and if you look at any available polling information, the more people saw Mr. Scheer, the lower his favourability rating went,” said Koch.
“And especially in parts of the country where we needed to win to have a chance of forming government. So it was clear going into a next election, he wasn’t going to have that advantage.”
New Democrat MP Alexandre Boulerice said how media coverage of Scheer’s resignation unfolded on the Hill “looks like an internal party fight.”
“The last nail in the coffin was this story, taking money from the Conservative party to help pay for the private school of his children,” Boulerice told TPM after Question Period.
“The only ones who had this private information was Conservatives, so the only ones who could leak it to the press were the Conservatives…this is something that can happen in a party but when it’s secret and you don’t tell it to the caucus or the members, it can come and backfire like this.”
During his resignation address to the House of Commons, Scheer said putting his family first weighed heavily on his decision before thanking his Conservative colleagues.
“We have accomplished a lot on both the government and opposition sides of the benches. Most importantly, we have kept our party united and strong,” said Scheer.
“That is why I felt it was appropriate to speak to my friends and colleagues today in the House of Commons about one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made.”