Allow me to break the fourth wall for a moment as I start off this column: in my piece “Why I’m voting Liberal,” I paraphrased Sir Winston Churchill to argue that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is a “modest man who has much to be modest about.”
The Post Millennial editors asked if I would expand on that suggestion. Here goes.
This weekend over Thanksgiving dinner, both my poppa, dad and great uncle were quite clear that they do not like Justin Trudeau one bit. They should be prime Conservative voters, demographically speaking. But are they enthusiastic to go vote Tory? Not in the slightest; “I guess I have to vote PC,” they said. They say Scheer seems like “a kid” or “weak,” or most devastating in their minds, “not much better than Trudeau.”
Similarly, when I ask my Tory buddies—even some who work on Conservative campaigns or for Premier Doug Ford—about Mr. Scheer, they all say variations on a theme: he’s boring, not up to the task, soy boy (whatever that means).
So let’s dispense with the obvious: Scheer is a career politician who oddly served as the nonpartisan Speaker, only to go back to party politics to run for leader. That, and then there’s the whole business about relocating to Saskatchewan after a stint as a staffer on the Hill, and the whole embellishing about being an insurance broker, when he was not one (of all the qualifications to fudge—the guy in Catch Me If You Can at least had the sense and imagination to fake being a pilot).
The bigger issue, though, is Scheer lacks a compelling alternative vision to Prime Minister Trudeau. His strategy seems based more on voters tiring of Trudeau, not on actually presenting a programme that could persuade people to change their vote.
Call it a base play, or timidity.
What is Scheer offering Canadian voters? A few boutique tax credits from the Harper playbook, the cancellation of the carbon tax and not being Justin Trudeau. For maybe 30 percent of the population, that is more than enough, sign me up.
But for the vast majority of Canadians, simply “not being Justin Trudeau” is insufficient. They want something to vote for, something that speaks to their real anxieties. To 70 percent of the population, Scheer’s agenda of not fighting the climate crisis and spending cuts is anathema.
Throughout this campaign, even as Trudeau faced significant challenges such as the blackface controversy, Scheer has been unable to capitalize, unable to grow beyond his 30 percent base.
His failure to put forward any programme to fight climate change is clearly a dealbreaker for many Canadians; no doubt that is why the Liberals have focused so heavily on the issue. Moreover, Scheer is seemingly nowhere on the major social contract issues we are facing in this area of economic disruption, automation and darkening geopolitics.
Scheer is offering small-ball politics, when the issues and challenges people face—from the climate crisis to the lack of workplace benefits in the gig economy—require bolder, broader solutions.
What is the Conservative plan to lower the cost of prescription drugs? How will Tories deal with precarious work and the lack of pension and other benefits? What is the Conservative solution to traffic gridlock? How will Tories address AI and automation to protect workers? Scheer is largely silent on these major challenges. Even on deficits, his plan to balance the books is years away and a pipedream without major cuts.
There is a small-C conservative approach to tackling these big questions of economic change, the cost of living and the climate crisis, but Scheer’s trying to play error-free, uninspiring hockey, rather than setting out to win the game. Again, he thinks Trudeau will defeat himself, which is a variation on the classic blunder of underestimating your opponent.
Added to this timidity in terms of policy is the fact that even Conservative voters find Scheer lacklustre—can anyone realistically imagine Scheer standing up to Donald Trump?—and you have a recipe for an uninspiring offering to the voters.
For all his flaws as a blowhard playing footsie with racists, at least Maxime Bernier would have presented a clear contrast with Trudeau’s vision; even if the vision Bernier offered was dead wrong, at least it exists.
Or, to quote another timid conservative figure, George HW Bush, Scheer lacks “the vision thing,” and as the proverb says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
They say that history does not repeat itself but it does rhyme. It’s intriguing to think that here we are yet again in this country with the bloom off the rose of Trudeaumania but a tepid and milquetoast Conservative leader is unable to capitalize.