Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer listens as a reporter asks a question during a news conference in Ottawa, April 14, 2020.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer addresses supporters after he lost to Justin Trudeau in the federal election, in Regina on Oct. 21, 2019.
Tom Mulcair was the bookmaker’s favourite to become prime minister a month before the vote in 2015. Six months after polling day, he was rejected as NDP leader by the majority of delegates at the party’s annual convention.
Andrew Scheer was in a similar position, well ahead in the polls a month before the October 21 vote. He is now campaigning to avoid Mulcair’s fate and is set to embark on a listening tour which could decide his future.
To this point, his strategy has consisted of denying that his job as Conservative Party leader is precarious. His post-election comments have focused on “reasons for optimism”, “improvements we can point to” and the party’s achievement in winning more votes and more seats.
But he is set to meet his caucus on Wednesday and it sounds like he will be left in no doubt that many believe the election defeat was a missed opportunity.
Scheer has already taken soundings with caucus members and is aware of the bubbling anger. His staff say he is feeling good about the mood. But that sense is undermined by the message he has relayed to party supporters that he plans to tour the country over the next couple of months, asking for candid feedback, before “doing the right thing for himself, his family and the party”.
Senior Conservative staff say the leadership selection review will go ahead as planned at the party’s convention in the spring, and that everything else is hypothetical. Yet it sounds very much as if Scheer is preparing the ground to leave of his own volition if he doesn’t like what he hears on his cross-country tour.
It is entirely possible that Conservative caucus members decide to take matters into their own hands this Wednesday. Should 51 per cent of Conservative MPs decide to grant caucus the power to remove the leader, and then 25 of them put their signatures to a leadership review, Scheer could be packing his bags before the week is out.
But that seems unlikely, given the party’s constitution grants that power exclusively to its membership. As one MP said: “We actually play by our rules.”
The caucus members I spoke with don’t expect an uprising. The meeting will be attended by 26 new MPs who have just won their seats under Scheer’s leadership, plus 20 others who supported him in the 2017 leadership contest.
Nor is there a campaign to unseat Scheer from outside the caucus. Peter MacKay’s criticism that the election defeat was like failing to score on an open net was an honest response to a question asked of him on a panel in Washington, D.C.
It was compounded by news leaking that a group of Progressive Conservatives had met at the Albany Club in Toronto. But that was to discuss a lecture series at Dalhousie University, not to organize against the leader. MacKay contacted Scheer last week to reassure him that he is not plotting against him. If Scheer does step down, MacKay may very well be a candidate to replace him.
But the former minister knows that he who wields the knife seldom wears the crown.
The only person likely to oust Andrew Scheer before the April convention is Andrew Scheer. He must now gauge whether he can win the support of a sufficient number of Conservative members – probably around 75 per cent of the delegates who attend the convention in Toronto – to lead the party into the next election.
If he concludes he is in danger of suffering Mulcair’s fate, he may decide to take pre-emptive action.
That would not be an easy decision for a man with five children and no work experience outside politics. But he may well come to the conclusion that he has no choice. The discontent is real. There is a feeling among many Conservatives that even the most protracted campaign review will not address its central weakness – the leader. “I have never seen people so angry,” said one former cabinet member with decades of experience in the Conservative Party. “That is saying something because I have lived through a lot of angry times.”
Politics is not bean-bags, as former U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell once said. “It’s serious tough stuff.” Scheer is about to find out how tough.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019