The results of Monday’s federal election have set off a debate within Conservative circles over whether Andrew Scheer or Doug Ford is most to blame for the party’s failure to win government despite a vulnerable Liberal incumbent.
On the face of it, the question seems absurd. As leader of the party that was on the ballot, Mr. Scheer must automatically accept responsibility for Monday’s loss – which he nevertheless tried to spin as a technical win because the Conservatives won the popular vote.
The truth is, both the Liberals and the Conservatives performed poorly in Monday’s vote. Neither party was able to rally much more than a third of the electorate, though the Liberals benefited from a more “efficient” distribution of votes in seat-rich Ontario. With a different leader and more inclusive message, however, the Tories would not have had to settle for second place.
There is no doubt that Mr. Ford, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Premier, hurt the federal party where it mattered most – in Toronto’s inner and outer suburbs. Pockets of Ford Nation may still exist somewhere on this planet, but it is comical to suggest, as former Ford campaign manager Kory Teneycke has, that Mr. Ford was an asset rather than a liability for the federal Tories. That the Ontario Premier had gone into hiding during the campaign speaks for itself.
Mr. Ford owed his 2018 election victory far more to the unpopularity of Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government than to any populist wave. Either of Mr. Ford’s centrist challengers for the PC leadership, Caroline Mulroney or Christine Elliott, would likely have led the party to a bigger victory in the general election. Indeed, plenty of life-long Tories, with memories or knowledge of former Ontario premiers John Robarts and Bill Davis, could not bring themselves to vote for Mr. Ford.
In this election, Mr. Scheer and Mr. Ford were faces of a Canadian Conservative movement that has become narrow-minded, anti-intellectual, vindictive and retrograde in the minds of too many voters. With each election, the proportion of Canadians that would consider voting Conservative seems to shrink. While the party’s base remains intact at around 30 per cent of the electorate, increasingly few Canadians outside that circle would even give it a look.
Still, with a 21st-century version of Mr. Robarts or Mr. Davis as their leader – with modern, constructive and pragmatic views on economic, environmental and social issues – the federal Tories could have overcome the Ford factor in Ontario. Enough swing voters had grown tired enough of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to make themselves “available” to the Conservatives.
But it took one look, maybe two, for them to rule the Tories out. With Mr. Scheer at the helm, the Conservatives didn’t deserve to win on Monday. They provided no good reason to oust Mr. Trudeau unless you think killing the federal carbon tax is the country’s most pressing issue, when on the contrary, some form of carbon pricing is favoured by most Canadians.
An even larger proportion of voters – 70 per cent, according to an Angus Reid poll released Oct. 18 – supports the construction of at least some new oil pipelines. The suggestion that most voters did not get what they wanted out of Monday’s vote is inaccurate. They want both carbon pricing and at least one new pipeline to tidewater, as the Liberals have promised.
Even if Mr. Scheer had taken the same stand, however, he would still not be prime minister-designate today. He delivered a consistently terrible performance. He was incapable of conceding that a woman’s right to choose and the right of any citizen to marry the person of their choosing are non-negotiable. Anyone worthy of the job of prime minister in 2019 must support those rights, and not just grudgingly tolerate them. The social-conservative faction within the Conservative Party is not worth pandering to if it means alienating everyone else.
Mr. Scheer became leader of the Conservative Party in 2017 – and barely at that, squeaking past Maxime Bernier on the final ballot – because no A-lister was interested in the job. Mr. Trudeau was still riding a wave, and the stench of Stephen Harper was still too strong among most voters for pundits to think the Tories could win in 2019.
Mr. Scheer has had his chance to prove the pundits wrong. He has failed miserably, considering the possibilities. He should spare his party the task of holding a leadership review next April – which he stands to lose, anyway – and allow a worthy successor to find her or his footing in time to wage the next electoral battle. It might come sooner than anyone thinks.