The election of Andrew Scheer as the new leader of the Conservative Party caught a lot of people by complete surprise. It will take an expert in probability to figure out the math of it: how a ranked ballot with 13 candidates + 338 equally weighted ridings divided by the vicissitudes of political calculus = the unexpected Mr. Scheer. But that's not what really matters anymore.
What counts now is where Mr. Scheer takes the party of Stephen Harper, and whether or not his caucus and the party at large are willing to follow him there. He is facing a huge test that will begin to crescendo at his party's pre-election policy convention in Halifax in August of 2018, and then hit its climax in the federal election scheduled for the fall of 2019.
In between now and the election, he must bring his party together as a disciplined political machine ready to take on Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party, or he will doom the Tories to many more years on the opposition benches.
There is no guarantee Mr. Scheer is up to the task. He has his strengths: He is an experienced Parliamentarian who did a good job in the role of Speaker in the last Harper government, and he is an affable, relatable father of five young children.
But he is no one's idea of a charismatic political saviour. And he is taking over a party feeling the tumult of a leadership campaign that saw candidates pushing widely divergent social and economic agendas – ones that will be difficult to contain under one big tent.
His party is also still traumatized by the 2015 election campaign, at the end of which Mr. Harper made a desperate and failed attempt to win votes by attacking the cultural practices of Muslims.
The Conservative Party was set adrift by Mr. Harper's subsequent departure, and it remains adrift today. Its only uniting ideal is the desire to return to power; its only consistent message is its claim that Mr. Trudeau represents an elite that is contemptuous of conservative values.
"The Liberals can take their cues from the cocktail circuit. We will take ours from the minivans, from the soccer fields, from the legion halls and the grocery stores," Mr. Scheer said on Monday.
Fair enough. But the Liberals aren't Mr. Scheer's real problem right now. It's the Conservative Party he needs to worry about.