Did Conservatives pick a dud?
The answer to this question will undoubtedly emerge in 2018 as Canadians either "get to know" Andrew Scheer or, as is just as likely the case, continue to ignore the federal Tory Leader's very existence. Either way, Conservatives may be looking for a replacement before 2019 arrives.
For a candidate who was supposed to be the down-to-earth antidote to the celebrity politician that is Justin Trudeau, Mr. Scheer only seems to confirm that bland usually doesn't work. It might sell in 1970s-era Ontario or Regina-Qu'Appelle, the sleepy Saskatchewan riding Mr. Scheer has represented since he was a 25-year-old. But the dimpled-doughboy shtick just isn't cutting it among Canadians.
Mr. Scheer can only hope that few enough of them saw the ad the Conservatives ran this fall – the one in which the everyman leader strolls through a subdivision in comfort-fit jeans – to reserve judgment. For the rest of us, that image of Mr. Scheer will stick, and not in a good way.
It hardly seems fair. Mr. Trudeau managed to become Prime Minister on a thinner résumé. But the Liberal Leader has star power and a carefully constructed image to compensate for his weaknesses in other areas. He projects confidence and modernity. For anyone paying attention, the Trudeau aura is as vaporous as the air it is made of. But most voters don't seem to care, as evidenced by the ease with which the Liberals picked off two former Conservative seats in recent by-elections.
At 38, Mr. Scheer may be nearly a decade younger than Mr. Trudeau, but he comes off as a prude. Either that or he is plain unworldly, having had little interaction with parts of society outside the socially conservative confines of his strict Catholic upbringing in Ottawa and career as a Tory backbencher and speaker of the House of Commons. He seems neither curious about the views of Canadians who disagree with his own nor prepared to do much to win them over.
This is the kind of tunnel vision that keeps the Tory base satiated by validating its own biases – no carbon tax, no marching in Pride parades, no federal funding for anti-conservative liberals on campus – but which is seen by everyone else for the transparent pandering that it is. It won't grow the Conservative base and it is a major turn-off to social liberals unhappy with Mr. Trudeau's fiscal policies and mushy statism, the very voters Mr. Scheer needs to woo.
Mr. Scheer moved swiftly last week to kick Senator Lynn Beyak out of the Tory caucus for countenancing racist views. But he has yet to show he is truly committed to ridding the Conservative Party of the paleolithic elements that found a home in it under Stephen Harper. Until he does, the party will remain dead to most Canadians.
None of this means Conservatives should have chosen Maxime Bernier over Mr. Scheer in last spring's leadership vote. Mr. Bernier's narrowly focused libertarianism might have provided a clear contrast with the Liberals on economic policy, but his ideological platform would have collapsed under the weight of scrutiny. All that can be said of Kevin O'Leary is that the Conservatives dodged a bullet with his withdrawal from the leadership race.
The Tory Leader showed he does possess something resembling a killer instinct in zeroing in on a vulnerable Finance Minister Bill Morneau during the fall session in the House of Commons. But he ended up looking more opportunistic than principled in clamouring for the Mr. Morneau's resignation for allegedly violating ethics rules.
I don't know if Mr. Scheer can grow in the job. But if I was a member of the Tory brain trust drafting a campaign strategy for the next election, I would not be counting on Mr. Scheer to deliver many new voters to the party. He might have been the best choice among a weak field of leadership candidates. But he does not have winner written anywhere on his face.
Better for Tories to realize that now than a year from now, when it will be too late to make a switch before Canadians go to the polls the following October. Then again, that implies there would someone else out there not only able to do a better job, but willing to bother trying.
There is a reason no big names stepped up to replace Mr. Harper. The former Tory leader and prime minister daunts his party, still.