Partly out of genuine concern, partly out of sheer devilment, supporters of Maxime Bernier stirred up trouble for new Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer over the past week. But the rebellion fizzled, in part because of a funny line.
The Bernier camp insists it was someone from outside their ranks who first complained of voting irregularities in the contest that narrowly elected Mr. Scheer over Mr. Bernier two weeks ago. The implication was obvious: with the result so close (Mr. Scheer won with 51 per cent of the vote), lost or miscounted ballots could have skewed the election. Mr. Bernier might, in fact, have won, had things been done properly.
Party officials made matters worse by denying there had been any problems, then acknowledging maybe there had been. Former MP Jay Hill, a Bernier supporter, complained that he had never received a ballot, despite repeatedly asking for one. TV personality and former candidate Kevin O'Leary demanded a recount, because he's Kevin O'Leary.
The whole unseemly affair tainted the crucial first days of Mr. Scheer's leadership. Was the Conservative Party coming apart after a divisive and, it now it appears, flawed leadership vote?
Before launching a risky action, the first and most important question to ask yourself is: What are we trying to achieve? It's a hard question for Mr. Bernier's side to answer. The Beauce MP had no hope of becoming leader through a recount or a new vote. No one but no one outside his inner circle would have stood for such a thing, and no one expected it.
Instead, the Bernier camp was seeking change and influence, according to those who know what they're talking about. The Conservative leadership selection process – a ranked ballot, equally weighted ridings, a combination of mail-in and on-site voting methods – is cumbersome and, as we've learned, vulnerable. The party needs to review procedures and come up with proposed improvements in time for the 2018 policy convention.
But Mr. Bernier's followers also want to remind Mr. Scheer that the new leader's win was narrow and unanticipated; that Mr. Bernier has as much support among the party membership as Mr. Scheer, and that this support must be accommodated, both in policy choices and in staffing.
The problem with this approach is that, by acting out, Mr. Bernier's supporters have made their leader appear reckless and disloyal. Other candidates, especially runner-up Erin O'Toole, declared their unconditional support for Mr. Scheer. By Tuesday evening, Mr. Bernier and his supporters were tweeting likewise. This teapot tempest had subsided.
The plain fact is that Mr. Bernier had little support in caucus, in part because he's not much of a team player and in part because some of his proposed policies – such as eliminating a federal role in health care – were toxic. Most MPs, and ultimately most Conservative voters, rallied behind either Mr. Scheer or Mr. O'Toole, happy to see either one of them take the prize.
In the midst of the vote-count brouhaha, Mr. Scheer dispatched any danger of buyer's remorse when he bested Justin Trudeau in a Question Period exchange. After Mr. Scheer made fun of the Prime Minister's recent appearance on a daytime talk show, Mr. Trudeau replied, a bit testily: "I am glad the Leader of the Opposition's new duties have not kept him from his daytime TV-watching."
"After a week of avoiding me, that was the only place I could find him!" Mr. Scheer shot back, to guffaws. A hit. A very palpable hit.
One couldn't help thinking that Mr. Bernier, whose English is not impeccable, would not have fared as well in the exchange. After electing Stéphane Dion Liberal leader in 2006, many Liberals almost instantly began kicking themselves for doing it. That is emphatically not happening here.
Mr. Scheer has difficult decisions ahead – not least figuring out how to accommodate Mr. Bernier within the shadow cabinet and the party. But in the way each man and his supporters behaved this week, it seems pretty clear that Conservative voters made the right choice.