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The 2019 election has brought the Tory Leader’s contradictions into sharper focus: How to reconcile his moderate tone and suburban-dad persona with his fiscal-hawk instincts and the strident social conservatism of his past? Campbell Clark and Adam Radwanski look at the political journey that made him what he is

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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer makes his way through the crowd at Acadian Day celebrations in Dieppe, N.B., on Aug. 15.Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

The Conservative Party paints a picture of Andrew Scheer as a sort of Everyman: a suburban father of five who likes beer, football and quoting The Simpsons. And in the eyes of many around him, he really is that.

And yet, beyond the dimpled smile and agreeable nature lies a strategic politician with a foot in almost every camp in his party: fiscal conservative, social conservative, populist, pragmatist. Few factions were deeply excited by him when he ran for leader of the party, but he emerged as a consensus candidate who could relate to just about everyone in their big tent.

Whether enough other Canadians will see him as relatable is a different matter and one of the big questions in the federal election campaign.

Mr. Scheer’s middle-class roots are real, but his common-man tale isn’t so common. Unlike most suburban dads, he has spent almost his entire adult life in politics – party staffer at 20, MP at 25, Speaker of the House of Commons at 32 – with virtually no experience making a living any other way.

It hasn’t always been easy for outsiders to discern what makes him tick.

How can one reconcile his past expressions of stridently conservative views, his occasional flirtations with right-wing populism, the unity-broker appeal of his Conservative leadership bid and the moderate tone of his election campaign?

Yet, he has spent much of his life thinking about the conservative movement and its place in a Canadian political culture that rewards pragmatism.

His childhood, his friendships, even his taste in movies all seem to have shaped his idea of a post-Stephen Harper Conservative Party – even if resolving all of its strains into a single, clear identity is still a work in progress.

Mr. Scheer’s political mind displays two defining traits, occasionally in conflict with each other: a reflex against what he sees as the many intrusions of government and a belief that the Conservative movement must be built up brick by brick.

Those characteristics evolved over the course of a political journey that began before most of us ponder politics at all.

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At a truck stop in Salisbury, N.B., Mr. Scheer scoops ice cream for supporters.

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Near the truck stop, he stops to greet a group of patrons at a Tim Hortons.Photos: Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

The Conservative Leader talks about having a rebellious streak as a kid, which doesn’t sound so unusual, until he ties it to the fall of Romania’s Communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu.

When he was 10, Mr. Scheer had a paper route, and he knew from reading the front page of the Ottawa Citizen that the dictator’s own troops had turned against him. He also knew his own family had distant Romanian roots. He started questioning his father, Jim Scheer, an imposing researcher and librarian in the Citizen’s newsroom.

Young Andrew followed the fall of the Iron Curtain, as well, and by his own account, it led him to be suspicious of authority – not from parents or teachers, but from government.

“All the video games at that point were Warsaw Pact versus NATO. The Olympics were all Soviet-bloc countries versus Western democracies. In Bond movies, the bad guys were always Soviets,” Mr. Scheer said in August, during an interview with The Globe and Mail in Dieppe, New Brunswick. “And that was very much my world growing up – here is this entire part of the world fighting for the very things we had here.”

“Where this ties into the rebellious nature is people telling you what you can and can’t do,” he continued. “Seeing the Soviet Union, learning that you couldn’t visit other towns without permission, that you couldn’t leave the country without permission, that you couldn’t say things without permission – you know, I went to a school that had uniforms.”

He now sees that as the seed of his belief in limited government. “I think it’s important that there are natural limits to government and that we view the growth of government with skepticism.” While he says he isn’t a libertarian, “I certainly understand where libertarians are coming from.” One long-time associate recalls that when Mr. Scheer was in his early 20s, he went through a phase where he was deeply interested in the writings of Ron Paul, the former Republican Congressman and Libertarian presidential candidate known for calling for a U.S. government that provides defence, courts, police “and little else.”

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Mr. Scheer says he understands libertarians' point of view, even though he does not identify as one himself.Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

His upbringing seems to have fostered his small-government beliefs. His father, he says, shared some of that same skepticism of government. His two sisters, who both live in the United States, are registered Republicans.

His parents were also active in their union locals – his mother, Mary, was a nurse – and in their condominium board, and they instilled another lesson in him: get involved. “We’d go to some of these meetings, and of the 72 units, 14 people were there,” Mr. Scheer recalls. “The idea was kind of, maximize your franchise by showing up.”

The family’s Catholic faith also clearly laid the foundation for another strain of Mr. Scheer’s politics: social conservatism.

Jim Scheer in now a deacon at Ottawa’s St. Patrick’s Basilica. When Mary died in 2017, her obituary noted that “she loved her religious heritage and worked to defend it in word and deed, as well as her work to advance pro-life causes and politics.” She had been active with the anti-abortion organization Nurses for Life and, later, within the federal and provincial Conservative parties. The Scheers practised a traditionalist form of Catholicism, attending the kind of Latin mass that had been common before the Vatican II reforms of the early 1960s. Jim Scheer felt that was important. Until 2006, both Andrew and his mother were listed as board members for Una Voce Canada, an organization devoted to promoting the old Latin mass, although Mr. Scheer said he wasn’t very active.

In 2002, Mr. Scheer visited the Vatican to attend the canonization of Cardinal Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, the ultra-devout prelature whose members devote part of their lives to service and sometimes to ascetic practices. (A spokesperson for Mr. Scheer said he was never a member, but offered no comment on why he went.) In 2010, after Mr. Scheer hosted a lunch at Parliament for Opus Dei’s vicar for Canada, Monsignor Fred Dolan, he blasted Opposition MPs for criticizing the invitation.

“The last time it was a crime to be a Catholic was in 1827 in Nova Scotia, when they repealed the penal laws,” he said then. “It is a shame that some people are trying again to make members of certain faith groups disqualified from public life.”

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Mr. Scheer and his wife, Jill, conduct a cheer with children playing soccer at a Sept. 16 campaign event in Kelowna, B.C.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

The combination of his libertarian-ish reflex and his social-conservative views form a thread that runs through Mr. Scheer’s politics to this day. He doesn’t only talk about small government with the fiscal conservative’s rhetoric about getting the public sector out of things the private sector can do (though he does that). He refers to the government crowding out family and social traditions, or the role of parents in educating their kids. In June, he gave a speech on federalism (one in a series of five on his vision for Canada) in which he argued the Liberals are intruding on local and provincial roles with policies such as the carbon tax.

“I think his basic instincts are that limited government is better than intrusive government,” says Chuck Strahl, the former Conservative minister and Reform Party veteran who chaired Mr. Scheer’s leadership campaign. “It shouldn’t try to replace the entire social structure – the family, NGOs, volunteerism. There’s a role for government, but it’s limited.”

As a young MP, Mr. Scheer sometimes framed those views in brasher terms. In his first term, he wrote a blog where he struck a similar tone about Liberal plans for subsidized daycare: “So the Liberals don’t think that parents can raise children on their own. They need the huge nanny states to literally become their nannies.”

In 2005, he gave a now-famous speech attacking same-sex marriage. That speech, which the Liberals eagerly circulated before the start of the campaign, didn’t simply reflect his religious views. Its thesis was that same-sex marriage was yet another government intrusion – an attempt “to alter a fundamental reality of our society.”

He could also be more caustic toward his opponents than his affable demeanour might suggest. He won his first election in 2004 with a cheap-shot insinuation that his veteran NDP opponent was soft on child pornography. On his blog, he compared the Liberals to the Dark Side in Star Wars.

The opinionated kid is older now. He said he has learned that part of fighting for what you believe in is winning people over, “instead of just constant biting remarks.” After all, he came of age in a Conservative Party that was learning, under Stephen Harper, to pursue its goals incrementally and with discipline.

Absorbing that discipline eventually helped Mr. Scheer to position himself as heir to a coalition of Conservatives who must sometimes temper their own views for the movement’s greater good.

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Ottawa, 2000: Mr. Scheer, then a member of the University of Ottawa Canadian Alliance Club, gets a high-five from party leader Preston Manning at his campaign headquarters. The Alliance was one of several stages in the conservative mergers of the 2000s that would eventually produce the party Mr. Scheer now leads.Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Mr. Scheer’s first political gig was as a youth co-ordinator at the second United Alternative convention, the Reform Party’s unite-the-right initiative, when he was just 19. After that, he worked the before-dawn shift summarizing newspapers in the Reform Party’s Parliament Hill office, and then wrote letters in the office of Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day.

He doesn’t usually highlight how he worked his way up from the party mailroom. His aides point to high-school jobs selling popcorn and hotdogs at sports arenas. Mr. Scheer talks of learning about the struggles of small businesses while working for them.

In fact, his private-sector experience is scant.

In 2003, he worked briefly as a waiter in Regina after moving there to be with his future wife, Jill. Then he spent a few months working in insurance – although what he did isn’t exactly clear.

In official bios (such as the one on his Facebook page), Mr. Scheer is said to have been an insurance broker before entering public life. His office said he was an insurance agent. He was not.

The Globe and Mail found no record he ever received the licence required by law to work as an insurance agent or broker in Saskatchewan. Asked to clarify, Mr. Scheer’s spokesman, Daniel Schow, said earlier this week that Mr. Scheer took broker courses, but left the industry before receiving a licence. The job functions Mr. Schow listed were clerical, such as issuing licence plates and collecting payments.

At any rate, Mr. Scheer’s insurance career was brief. He was hired at Shenher Insurance by Mike Shenher, a Saskatchewan Party candidate in the 2003 provincial campaign, on whose campaign Mr. Scheer worked. (After Mr. Scheer was elected in 2004, he hired Mr. Shenher as his assistant, according to Mr. Shenher’s LinkedIn profile.)

But within months, Mr. Scheer left the firm to work as a constituency aide for Canadian Alliance MP Larry Spencer, who was kicked out of the party in November, 2003, after calling for homosexuality to be criminalized. Mr. Scheer nonetheless stayed on in Mr. Spencer’s office for months, to wrap up constituents’ files, according to his spokesperson.

Inside his party, being a political lifer has been more help than hindrance. It has contributed to familiarity and comfort between Mr. Scheer and both party elites and grassroots members, and given him a strong grasp of his party’s identity and idiosyncrasies.

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Signs at the United Alternative convention of 1999.John Hryniuk/The Globe and Mail

He was one of several future party luminaries who worked as Reform and Canadian Alliance interns on Parliament Hill. The first class of such interns, in 1998, was co-ordinated by Kory Teneycke (later Mr. Harper’s communications director), and featured future stalwarts such as Jenni Byrne and Ray Novak (Mr. Harper’s future campaign manager and chief of staff, respectively), and Pierre Poilievre, who became a cabinet minister. There were a number of future MPs among subsequent cohorts, including Chris Warkentin, Mark Strahl and Shannon Stubbs, all now part of Mr. Scheer’s inner circle. Many of those interns, like Mr. Scheer, became junior staffers.

It was a tumultuous time. Reform leader Preston Manning’s unite-the-right initiative led to the creation of the Canadian Alliance. Leader Stockwell Day’s tenure was marked by so-called “bozo eruptions” from MPs airing controversial views. Over two years, the party splintered.

“As an introduction to politics, it was pretty instructive, and I think it formed a lot of our views going forward,” says Jeremy Harrison, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Trade and Export Development, who befriended Mr. Scheer as an intern; both were elected to Parliament in 2004, at the age of 25.

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Stephen Harper, then leader of the Canadian Alliance, waves to supporters at a 2003 event announcing the result of the party's vote to merge with the Progressive Conservatives. With him is his daughter, Rachel, then 4.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

It took Stephen Harper and his iron-clad message of discipline to whip the party into shape, merge it with the Progressive Conservatives in 2003 and take power in 2006.

In his early days on the Hill, Mr. Scheer didn’t stand out as a future leader. Fellow young Conservatives knew he read a lot, but most don’t remember precisely what. They recall that he was good-natured and well-liked, and had nerdy interests that didn’t seem odd among political interns – smart puns, history, the roots of words. (Friends say he’s pretty much the same now.)

But over time, Mr. Scheer displayed a strategic ambition – more evident to members of his cohort in retrospect than at the time – marked by several big gambles.

First, there was his decision in 2004, having moved to Saskatchewan barely a year earlier, to run for Parliament. The NDP had held the Regina riding for decades, and incumbent Lorne Nystrom was a well-known veteran. Mr. Scheer’s friends advised him not to bother. But as Kory Teneycke tells it, Mr. Scheer had a detailed rationale for taking a run at the seat: Mr. Nystrom’s margin of victory had been shrinking in previous elections, and shifts were emerging in the province’s politics. Mr. Scheer won by 861 votes and became Parliament’s second-youngest MP at the time. (Mr. Poilievre, also first elected in 2004, is a couple of weeks younger.)

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Mr. Scheer, then the House Speaker, leafs through debate records at the Library of Parliament in 2014.Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

A more unusual career move, for one so young, came when Mr. Scheer put himself on the “parliamentary path” – first as an assistant speaker, then deputy speaker and then, in 2011, Speaker of the Commons. It might have looked as though Mr. Scheer, then just 32, were setting aside partisan ambition in favour of a plum post where he could indulge his wonky interest in British history and procedure. But those familiar with his thinking say he recognized his path to other advancement was blocked: Gerry Ritz, the Saskatchewan minister in Mr. Harper’s government, wasn’t going anywhere. The speakership would boost his stature in Ottawa far more than sitting on the backbench.

In 2015, when the party was relegated to opposition, Mr. Scheer was appointed House Leader. Then came his surprising leadership bid.

Although he had returned to the cut-and-thrust of partisan politics only months before, a clutch of friends and allies in caucus thought he should run. Some of his eventual opponents now believe Mr. Scheer, along with MPs such as Mr. Warkentin and Mark Strahl, had spent months plotting the outlines of his campaign from the office of the House Leader – in theory, a party office off-limits to leadership politicking.

Mr. Scheer insists that he only decided to run for leader on Aug. 23, 2016 – his wedding anniversary – after conversations with his wife. But Chuck Strahl thinks he got the idea pretty quickly after the Conservatives lost in 2015.

“I think as soon as the government went down and Mr. Harper said he was leaving, the wheels turned right then,” he says. “Oh yeah – he was one of the guys who thought, ‘I could take a run at it.’”

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At the Acadian Day celebrations in Dieppe, Mr. Scheer plays with his youngest daughter, Mary.

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Mr. Scheer shakes hands with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau at the festivities. To the left of Mr. Scheer is New Brunswick's Progressive Conservative Premier, Blaine Higgs.Photos: Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail

The contrast in charisma couldn’t have been clearer. It was Aug. 15, the day after the release of ethics commissioner Mario Dion’s report on the SNC-Lavalin scandal, which concluded Justin Trudeau broke the law. Both Mr. Scheer and Mr. Trudeau were in Dieppe, N.B., for Acadian National Day and its noisy parade, the Grand Tintamarre – a can’t-miss chance for politicians to press the flesh. When the two leaders crossed paths, a photographer captured their handshake. Mr. Scheer seized the chance to show up his rival, telling him to “come clean.”

But while Mr. Trudeau stoked the party atmosphere, bounding from one side of the street to another, hugging bystanders, posing for pictures and shaking a noisemaker, Mr. Scheer moved through the crowd semi-anonymously, then walked unobtrusively in the parade alongside New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, eventually slipping quietly off the route.

Mr. Scheer’s campaign team is well aware of the disparity. On some level, they imagine this campaign as something like an eighties high-school movie, where the nerdy guy beats the jock with the cool car.

There have still been efforts to manage Mr. Scheer’s image. His ubiquitous smile, seen by those who know him as a symbol of his good nature, rubbed voters the wrong way, so he worked at losing it. For months this spring, his aides experimented alternately with having him stare into TV cameras to look forceful or turn intermittently toward reporters to look human.

But his strategists love to note he didn’t have a party-leader image when he won the leadership.

Even with several high-profile names opting to sit out the contest, Mr. Scheer was never a presumed frontrunner. But in a party with many factions, it turned out that the winning strategy was to run as everyone’s second choice. In so doing, Mr. Scheer set himself up to hold together the coalition of Conservatives Mr. Harper had built, while giving the various groups room to express themselves after years of strict top-down management.

Internal division was a very real concern. Hamish Marshall, Mr. Scheer’s campaign manager for both the leadership and the federal election, says the party had so often turned on itself after losing that it became known as “Tory syndrome.” Potentially facing a long spell in Opposition, would various groups – from old Progressive Conservatives in Atlantic Canada to Western Canadian populists – splinter once more?

TV personality Kevin O’Leary was an unpredictable outsider. Maxime Bernier, the home-stretch frontrunner, was a libertarian known for not playing well with others; besides, some of his policies, such as scrapping supply management, were radioactive to parts of the caucus. A quartet of former Ontario ministers – Lisa Raitt, Michael Chong, Erin O’Toole and Chris Alexander – were, to varying degrees, seen as Red Tories unpalatable to the Reform wing. Kellie Leitch was flirting with Donald Trump-style anti-immigration rhetoric. Two strident social conservatives, Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux, were winning support with anti-abortion positions some believed would make the party unelectable.

Mr. Scheer, meanwhile, was known to be personally socially conservative, without looking to force those views on those who didn’t share them. He showed a libertarian streak with a pitch to punish universities that restricted controversial speech, but was pragmatic enough to defend supply management, attracting the support of the dairy-farming lobby. He was an Ottawa native who related easily to political lifers, but also a Roughriders-loving Saskatchewanian.

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A defeated Maxime Bernier, left, congratulates Mr. Scheer after his leadership victory on May 27, 2017.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

In the end, Mr. Scheer surpassed Mr. Bernier on the final ballot, despite getting less than 25-per-cent support on the first one. He came into the job with a big advantage: Conservatives of all stripes were united by their intense dislike of Mr. Trudeau. Replacing his Liberals in office trumped internal clashes.

Mr. Scheer still made unity a priority. He spent much of his time meeting with party members to build their comfort with him. He also became known for keeping a wide counsel. Where some leaders bristle at taking advice from their predecessors, he has consulted everyone from Mr. Harper to Brian Mulroney to Mr. Day.

Several people close to Mr. Scheer suggest that one of his endearing qualities is that he does not consider himself to be the smartest person in the room; Mr. Harper, they explicitly or implicitly say, did. Instead, he earnestly solicits a wide range of opinions before reaching decisions. Sometimes it results in a deliberative process his staff finds frustrating.

In addition to friends such as Mark Strahl, Mr. Warkentin and Ms. Stubbs, Mr. Scheer’s expanded kitchen cabinet includes people some rookie leaders might keep at arm’s length. Among them are Mr. Poilievre, the party’s attack dog, and leadership rival Ms. Raitt, now deputy leader. All this input has arguably given Mr. Scheer a better handle on caucus sentiment than many leaders might have.

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Deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

What’s trickier is giving members more freedom to express their views than they had under Mr. Harper, without the constant controversies that erupted during the Reform days.

MPs now have more room to dissent privately and speak publicly, rather than simply reciting talking points. And Mr. Scheer cuts them some slack if they unintentionally cause a controversy. But if they cross the line, they can expect consequences.

Mr. Scheer’s aides and allies point to several instances where he managed to assert himself without risking internal backlash.

Weeks after Mr. Scheer won the leadership, the Liberals put forward a motion to support the Paris Accord on climate change, which he viewed as a trap aimed at labelling the Tories climate deniers. He proposed voting for it, but allowed MPs to push back; it was agreed that MPs could skip the vote if they wanted to. When MP Cheryl Gallant suddenly signalled she would vote against the motion, and urged others to do likewise, Mr Scheer loudly chastised her in front of colleagues.

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Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant got a loud rebuke from Mr. Scheer for her stand on a climate-change motion.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

A more public example was his handling of Mr. Bernier. To many Tories, it had seemed for some time that Mr. Bernier was daring Mr. Scheer to kick him out of the caucus, publicly reopening their leadership dispute over supply management and attacking multiculturalism. But Mr. Scheer, wary of making a populist martyr of his one-time rival, kept giving Mr. Bernier chances to walk back his dissent. When Mr. Bernier left the Conservatives to launch his People’s Party in August, no other MPs followed.

A third case might underscore the fine line Mr. Scheer sought to walk. When Alberta MP Michael Cooper, arguing that a justice-committee witness was unfairly linking hateful acts to the Conservatives, read an anti-Muslim mass killer’s manifesto into the record, Mr. Scheer took away his committee role. One senior caucus member argued that was proportionate because Mr. Cooper had been asked not to make a scene. Still, some conservatives argued Mr. Scheer overreacted, while opponents insisted he should have kicked Mr. Cooper out of caucus.

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Mr. Scheer allowed MP Michael Cooper to stay in the Conservative caucus after reading part of the Christchurch gunman's racist manifesto.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Mr. Scheer appears to accept the occasional controversy in return for Conservatives feeling energized, rather than resentful.

During this campaign, nominees have been given the green light to attend some candidates’ debates in their ridings and to make themselves more accessible to local media. They’ve also been trained to spot and engage with swing voters, rather than merely identifying reliable supporters for get-out-the-vote purposes.

“My attitude is, let’s give people the tools, and let’s make sure they can go out and talk about our positive vision for Canada in their own voice,” says Mr. Marshall, the campaign manager. Under Mr. Scheer, he says, the Conservatives “recognize that not every riding is the same, and there’s a different set of pressures if you’re running in Nova Scotia or in Alberta.”

For all its potential upside, this approach puts the different strains within the Conservative Party on full display in a way they weren’t under Mr. Harper. That makes it harder to get a clear sense of what a Conservative government might look like.

But then, it’s not always easy to get a clear sense of the party’s identity even just from Mr. Scheer.

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Labour Day, 2019: Mr. Scheer tweets this picture saying he and his wife, Jill, are 'having a blast' at the Roughriders' game in Regina.Twitter (@AndrewScheer)/Twitter/Andrew Scheer

In his early days as an MP, Mr. Scheer was known as a fairly uncompromising fiscal hawk, even lobbying Mr. Harper’s government to withhold funding for new sports venues, including a Roughriders stadium – not an easy position for a Regina MP to take.

“We formed a group of MPs who were constantly pressuring the government to lower taxes and pay down debt,” recalls Mr. Poilievre, who became finance critic under Mr. Scheer. “A group of us met regularly to talk about how we could promote more free-market, low-tax, balanced-budget policies.”

Today, Mr. Scheer has put ample water in his wine on such matters. In May, he ditched his pledge to balance the budget in two years, saying it would take five – and giving himself some room to make campaign promises. His platform so far is mostly moderate centre-right, with a broad-based tax cut and some crowd-pleasing breaks. There is little talk of spending restraint.

He has found other ways to fire up his base, launching an all-points campaign against the carbon tax Mr. Trudeau imposed in five provinces, labelling it a tax grab, and calling for more oil pipelines. His climate-change plan includes vague initiatives to fund green technology and regulate industry, but relies heavily on the notion that producing more Canadian energy – notably liquid natural gas – would help other countries reduce emissions.

More difficult to reconcile with the mostly moderate pitch he is making to voters has been his intermittent flirtation with right-wing populism.

During the leadership campaign, Mr. Scheer enthusiastically endorsed Brexit days before Britons voted on it – a move aimed at standing out to his party’s base, who are suspicious of global liberalism.

Around the same time, Mr. Scheer voted alongside most of caucus against M-103, a motion to condemn and study Islamophobia, amid unsubstantiated claims that it would limit free speech.

As leader, he played to his base’s fears of being deluged by migrants when he blasted the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration – a non-binding agreement of principles among United Nations member states to work together to settled displaced peoples. Mr. Scheer falsely claimed it would cede Canada’s control of immigration to “foreign entities.”

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Hamish Marshall, Mr. Scheer's campaign manager, was once on the board of the extreme-right website Rebel Media.CPC handout/CPC

For those unsettled by Mr. Scheer’s positioning, it didn’t help that some of the most aggressive conspiracy-theorizing about M-103 and the Global Compact came from Ezra Levant’s right-wing outlet, Rebel Media. Mr. Marshall once served on Rebel’s board, and he provided online services to and shared office space with the company.

Mr. Marshall ended his relationship with Rebel Media in 2017, around the time of its sympathetic coverage of racist white-nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Mr. Scheer stopped giving interviews to Rebel, too.) Given the opportunity to comment on why he entered into a relationship with Rebel in the first place, Mr. Marshall pointed to previous explanations he has given other media outlets, which emphasize that he was never involved in Rebel’s editorial content.

Mr. Marshall’s friends suggest he viewed the relationship as a business one and didn’t foresee Rebel becoming so extreme in its views. Those who know him say they see no evidence he shared those views. But he did help build the Rebel’s digital infrastructure to earn revenue from hot-button activist campaigns. And he couldn’t have been entirely shocked by Mr. Levant, who has long been known for raising fears about Muslim immigrants and other minority groups.

If that suggests some degree of opportunism on Mr. Marshall’s part, it’s one Mr. Scheer seems to share. Conservatives close to him suggest he doesn’t wake up worrying about issues such as the Global Migration Compact. Instead, they imply that maintaining a Conservative coalition in 2019 means flirting with anti-migration and Islamophobia just enough to keep people who hold such views inside the tent.

That means Mr. Scheer needs to determine just how much to indulge that faction, without being defined by it himself.

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Mr. Trudeau speaks at a rally in Peterborough on Sept. 26.Chris Helgren/Reuters

Meanwhile, his opponents have been eager to seize on positions that have to do with genuine personal views, rather than any sort of opportunism. The Liberals have tried to persuade voters he can’t be trusted not to shift Canadian policy toward his own brand of social conservatism, but more generally, that he holds retrograde religious-right ideas that they don’t share.

When the Liberals circulated the video of Mr. Scheer railing against same-sex marriage, the Conservative Party bristled on his behalf. Liberals had also voted against same-sex marriage in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Besides, Mr. Scheer’s Conservatives had since pledged not to change the law. In a speech last spring, he proclaimed that he found the notion that sexual orientation would make anyone inferior “absolutely repugnant.”

It didn’t stop the story cold, partly because Mr. Scheer didn’t go the same route other politicians might have to achieve that.

He didn’t choose to make amends by attending a gay pride parade, as the Liberals were demanding. And while he affirmed that his party’s position on marriage had changed, he wouldn’t hint at whether his personal views had evolved.

Instead, he plowed on, trying to adhere to the realities of being a conservative Catholic in an age of secular politics, without fundamentally changing who he is or pretending to be something he’s not.

Mr. Scheer has made it known that one of his favourite films is A Man for All Seasons, which has been interpreted by some as a fitting choice for a man trying to appeal to several political constituencies.

But that’s not really what that movie is about.

Released in 1966, it tells the story of 16th-century political man Sir Thomas More, who refused to defy his Catholic beliefs to endorse Henry VIII’s divorce. Sir Thomas insisted he had not spoken a word against the king and that he had the right to keep his conscience private – right to the moment he was sentenced to death.

“I just thought, ‘There’s someone who says that doing the right thing is the only option,” Mr. Scheer says when asked why he liked the film so much. “You can’t console yourself with maybe short-term gains, material gains, if you are compromising your core beliefs. You’re violating your own conscience or you’re twisting yourself into something you’re not.

“Now, obviously, lots of issues you can be pragmatic about,” he continues. “You can make compromises and work as a team on different issues, but having those kinds of navigation points in your life that just say, ‘This is what I am about.’”

It’s not a fave-film choice that will bolster his regular-guy credentials. A limited number of suburban 40-year-olds get psyched up for their day jobs by watching biographical dramas about the Middle Ages released well before they were born.

But the choice speaks to Mr. Scheer’s political challenge: retaining his own sense of self while meeting expectations of both his party and Canadians.

The compromises and conflicts, over a lifetime in politics, are sure to add up – for a consensus-oriented leader of a factionalized party, or a fiscal hawk who knows he needs votes from people who don’t want things taken away from them, or a conservative Catholic in a secular world, let alone all of the above.

Canadians are left to decide whether Mr. Scheer has retained his compass through it all and whether they’re comfortable with where it’s pointing.

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Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

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