Conservative leadership candidate Andrew Scheer often gets a piece of unsolicited advice: Don't smile so much.
"The trouble is, I genuinely enjoy what I'm doing," the 37-year-old Saskatchewan MP acknowledges, somewhat sheepishly, during a recent lunch in the parliamentary dining room.
"When I was Speaker, I had one of these Twitter trolls … someone referred to me as 'Dimples McCheery.'"
Young, but with more than a dozen years of experience in politics, the former Speaker of the House of Commons is one of 13 candidates vying for leadership in a crowded race that includes seven former cabinet ministers, and potentially, a reality TV star.
Mr. Scheer is hardly a pugilistic presence. He pleads with a reporter not to describe him as soft-spoken. "That's the kiss of death!" he said, unable to suppress a smile. His most aggressive move so far has been to bait the unilingual Kevin O'Leary to join the race before next Tuesday's French-language debate. But unlike fellow candidate Lisa Raitt, he did not dedicate an entire website to debunking Mr. O'Leary's budding candidacy.
He is known for his ability to make a quip. "He may have a yoga body, I've got a dad body," Mr. Scheer said of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during last November's first leadership debate. His campaign hashtag is #scheerexcitement.
Mr. Scheer's agreeable nature appears to be working: He has so far amassed the most support in the Conservative caucus, a tally that could give him the edge in the leadership race.
He has 23 Conservative MPs and six senators endorsing him, the most of any other contestant. Last week, four Quebec MPs added their names to the list, a significant number for a party that only has 12 MPs from the province, two of whom are already running for leader. It could make a difference when Conservative voters from the country's 338 ridings, including 78 in Quebec, cast their leadership ballots on May 27.
(The candidate with the second-highest number of caucus supporters appears to be former veterans affairs minister Erin O'Toole, with 14 MPs endorsing him. Maxime Bernier has support from five MPs and three senators.)
He's also among the highest fundraisers. Although the final quarter of 2016 isn't yet public, Mr. Scheer said his three-month fundraising total between September and December was $323,000. By comparison, Mr. Bernier raised $370,000 in the third quarter of last year, and his campaign later said he raised almost $600,000 in the final quarter and was around $1 million by the end of the year.
He has yet to release much policy, although he said he'll start in the coming weeks. But Mr. Scheer said the endorsements from fellow MPs help him reach out to Conservatives and sell memberships – the most important aspect of a leadership race.
"Everything has to translate into somebody showing up and voting. So, that's what it's all about. Everything is geared towards that," Mr. Scheer said.
Born in Ottawa, but representing Regina since 2004, Mr. Scheer said he can bridge the east-west divide in Canada. He also speaks fluent French.
"You need a leader that can keep caucus united, keep the movement united. Not everyone can do that," he said.
With his reserved manner and aw-shucks demeanour, Mr. Scheer said he doesn't want to create a "wedge" on divisive ideas, such as Kellie Leitch's Canadian-values screening test.
He said he agrees with Ms. Leitch that there should be a more robust screening process for those coming into the country. But he's heard mixed reviews from Conservatives who don't agree with her messaging.
"I think that there's a way of talking about that that doesn't look like we're not an inclusive party," he said.
"Especially if we want to win seats in Toronto, Vancouver, heck, downtown Calgary, we have to make sure that we are defending our values and promoting our identity in a way that is aspirational for new Canadians."
The father of five children, aged one to 11, is anti-abortion. But he said he wouldn't bring forward any government legislation on the subject.
Mostly, Mr. Scheer said his campaign is about selling positive Conservative ideas – of low taxes, fiscal responsibility and compassion – to a broader audience.
"I think we were missing some of that in the last election. That's what I want to bring back."