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Andrew Scheer has yet to prove himself as a strongman capable of navigating the political and foreign policy landmines laid by Trudeau, but as the leader of the opposition, Scheer has done a commendable job keeping a majority government to account.
Like any good opposition leader, Scheer has consistently applied pressure on the misconducts of the governing Liberals.
Scheer dispelled Trudeau’s “sunny ways” illusion
Nowhere can this be seen more evidently than the Conservative’s leadership in condemning the SNC-Lavalin political interference scandal. Throughout that episode, Scheer and several of his shadow ministers were front and center in the public space advocating for an inquiry into the affair and standing ground in the Liberal-dominated justice committee hearings.
Their leadership in this affair led to other parties lining up behind the opposition in their condemnation of Liberal corruption. Members of the NDP, the Bloc Quebecois and even the Green Party took the Conservative’s lead in their strategy to expose misconduct and political interference.
Of course, an opposition party can only do so much when facing a majority government. At its best, the Conservative Party has effectively dispelled the “sunny ways” illusion the Liberals conjured to get elected into power, to show Canadians the dark powers and principalities working underneath the shiny new veneer.
One of Scheer’s early successes was the ability to convert Trudeau’s India catastrophe into a net gain in polls for the Conservative party. It was this occasion which proved to be the first crack in Trudeau’s public image.
Recently, even the conservative evil-nemesis and Liberal operative Gerald Butts admitted the political acumen in the Conservative’s handling of the trip saying they “did a good job embarassing us”.
Fearing controversy might be Scheer’s biggest weakness
Scheer’s kryptonite seems to be a kowtowing to political correctness and a failure to stand up for members from his caucus when controversy comes knocking.
As I’ve written about before, muckraking seems to be the preferred mode of attack against conservatives in recent elections. The provincial elections of Alberta and Ontario are a testament to the fact that the left will stop short of nothing to knock out candidates from the race and paint their opponents in a vile light.
Unfortunately, Scheer has been susceptible to this strategy and unwilling to show the strength of force required when it comes to defending members and potential members of his party.
This susceptibility became clear when Scheer failed to stand up for Conservative MP and Deputy Justice Critic Michael Cooper when he came under attack by Liberal and NDP opponents for defending the reputation of conservatism against smears by a witness. Instead of defending, Cooper’s statements and bravery, Scheer had him removed from the committee, effectively gutting the opposition present.
Among those on the right, the decision to remove one of the strongest Conservative members from the Justice Committee was extremely disappointing, while for those on the left the punishment wasn’t harsh enough and were calling for Cooper’s blood.
Either way, Scheer didn’t help anybody in this case, especially not himself.
A party not caught up with the times
Conservatism, on a large scale, has been invigorated with new life. In Canada, and beyond, opinions among the mainstream right have evolved and multiplied. This evolution has come at the price of a dying and rigid neo-conservatism which was birthed at the turn of the millenium.
Never before have so many different voices and factions been energized to influence the movement directly. The status quo has been shaken up by the populist revivals taking place around the world. Here too in Canada, thinkers in the movement are debating the merits of Trumpian populism, Canadian nationalism, libertarian economic thought, as well as more old fashioned Tory ideas.
In a characteristically Conservative fashion, the party of Andrew Scheer seems to have resisted much of this cultural and political change that has so affected our American and European counterparts, but why?
Much of this resistance to change can be ascribed to an ageing party, both institutionally and with regards to the individuals directing affairs.
Unlike the populist rhetoric employed among his provincial counterparts including Doug Ford and Jason Kenney, Scheer appears to be steering the party in a more traditional and “status quo” direction.
While I think this is a mistake, politically Scheer could very well leverage his party’s stability and centrism over the radicalism of the NDP, Greens and PPC and the instability of the Liberals.
From “not a chance” to a potential majority government
Despite some of his misfires let’s not forget that it was under Andrew Scheer’s watch that the Conservative Party went from being seen as impotent in its ability to defeat Justin Trudeau, to at its height being predicted to secure a majority government in 2019.
Politically, this is no small endeavour to pull off, especially for a party that was as vilified as it was by the end of the ten-year reign of Stephen Harper.
If successful in securing the 2019 federal election as a majority government, Scheer might be remembered for having pulled off one of the greatest turnarounds in recent Canadian political memory.