The immediate cause of his sudden resignation was journalists asking whether the Conservative Party had been paying his children’ private-school tuition. That, and the fact the answer was, “Yes.”
But ever since the Oct. 21 election and the party’s disappointing results, the departure of Andrew Scheer as Conservative Leader was increasingly becoming a question of when, not if. On Thursday, Mr. Scheer did the right thing by abruptly announcing that a party convention next spring will be choosing his replacement.
The Conservative defeat in the election of 2019 was far from total – remember, the party drew half-a-million more voters than in 2015, increased its seat count and even won the popular vote. And the failure to win was about much more than the personality and performance of its leader.
As we detailed in a series of recent editorials, the Conservative Party has deep problems in its ideas, its platform and its image, as a result of which too many voters in an increasingly urban and diverse Canada cannot see themselves voting Conservative.
Although Mr. Scheer is not the sole author of the failure to launch, his name appears at the top of the credits. In the tradition of responsible government, the leader wears things, positive and negative, even if he had little do with them. But the member from Regina-Qu’Appelle did things, including glaring unforced errors, that cost him and his party support.
The Liberals, hoping to change the channel from their own deficiencies, kicked off the campaign by raising doubts about Mr. Scheer’s level of comfort with the 21st century. Did the Conservative Leader want to roll back access to abortion? Did he question gay marriage?
Those questions should have been easy to put to bed, yet Mr. Scheer spent an entire campaign unable to find the words. Every time he went in front of the cameras to give it yet one more try, he came across like a student trying to fudge his way through an exam he hadn’t studied for, or a hostage struggling to read, first in an affectless voice and then with growing panic, from a statement prepared by his captors.
He could have levelled with Canadians, saying that there are some things he believes are contrary to his faith, but that he would never impose his religious beliefs on the country. Or he could have gone to a Pride parade and said that, instead of just tolerating gay marriage as an unfortunate fact that he had no choice but to accept, he would wholeheartedly embrace it.
There was the bit about his American dual citizenship. He could have surrendered that when he became an MP more than 15 years ago, or when he became Speaker of the House eight years ago, or when he became Leader of the Opposition more than two years ago.
Or, if he thought keeping his American citizenship was the right decision, he could have gone public with his status and presented his case for keeping it. Instead, he did nothing. The fact that he’s still an American citizen embarrassed him during the election.
And there was his strange résumé fudge: his claim of having been an insurance broker, when it turns out he was actually an insurance-office gopher. It was another case where Mr. Scheer had more than a decade to fix something, yet somehow never got around to doing so until called on it.
And for all of that, Mr. Scheer accomplished what was considered unattainable when he became Leader in 2017: He almost won. He assumed the Conservative leadership because other, more prominent Harper-era Conservative names – Jason Kenney most prominent among them – chose to sit out the race. Back then, it was assumed that Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals had re-election on cruise control.
That expectation turned out to be mistaken. Despite a platform and an image that were unappealing to too many Canadians, particularly in vote-rich Ontario and Quebec, and despite repeatedly shooting high-calibre rounds into his own foot, Mr. Scheer ended the election closer to the finish line than where he started.
But he still fell short. And given that Conservative support dropped and Liberal votes rose in key swing ridings in the Greater Toronto Area, the gap was much wider than the Conservatives’ share of the national popular vote would suggest. To win, and to deserve to win, the Conservatives are going to have to change. That change has to start with the leader.