Leading the fractious Conservative Party of Canada is a challenge for any leader. Andrew Scheer does not appear up to that challenge. Within the party, people are asking whether he will step down now or draw out the agony until April’s leadership vote.
Mr. Scheer’s supporters have good reason to be upset by this lack of loyalty. The Regina MP took a party that appeared doomed to a decade in opposition and brought it to the brink of victory in the Oct. 21 election. The Conservatives increased their seat count and won the popular vote, reducing Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to a minority government. Why on earth would the Tories be in almost-open rebellion after such a result?
The answer is simple: Mr. Scheer is a leader who is unable to convince.
For starters, his tactical judgment is unconvincing. On the weekend, he fired his chief of staff and communications director, more than a month after the election. Such bloodlettings are best dealt with immediately after a loss.
This was yet another example of the leader’s chronic inability to head problems off at the pass. (Not dealing with the question of his American citizenship before the election might have been the worst such example.) A politician needs to have a certain touch. Mr. Scheer lacks it.
More important, the leader cannot convince any wing of the party that he understands and represents their values. Social conservatives were upset by his failure to defend their restrictive approach to abortion and the rights of sexual minorities. That is a manageable problem; so-cons are a rump within the party.
But he has also upset the much larger group that is fiscally conservative but socially moderate over the very same issues. The party’s position – that a Conservative government would not legislate on abortion, and that same-sex marriage is now the law of the land – looked good on paper, but looked just awful when Mr. Scheer said it on camera, visibly uncomfortable in his own skin.
There was a way to handle the matter: to fully explain himself. That explanation might have gone something like this: “I am a devout Catholic. The Church opposes abortion and same-sex marriage and so, personally, do I. But I am also the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Conservatives celebrate the rights of the individual, and that includes the right to love whomever you choose and the right to have control over your own body. And as Conservative leader, I would protect and defend those rights.”
But for reasons that he keeps to himself, Mr. Scheer is unwilling to be forthright on these issues. As a result, many Conservatives are distancing themselves from the party rather than be tainted by the leader’s suspected beliefs. I have communicated off-the-record with many prominent Conservatives on this, and whatever the grassroots of the party may think of Mr. Scheer’s leadership, the grass tops are convinced he has to go.
There will be plenty of time to speculate on who may replace Mr. Scheer, but let’s first consider a few key qualities that the next leader must have.
First, they must be fluent in both English and French. Mr. Scheer performed poorly in the French-language debate. A Conservative leader can become prime minister without winning many seats in Quebec, but they must make every effort to speak both official languages as well as possible. In the interest of national unity, Ontario voters won’t support a leader who is not bilingual.
Second, the Conservative Party of Canada must defend a woman’s right to choose and must defend the rights of sexual minorities. And the leader must be emphatic in proclaiming those rights.
Third, the party must put forward a credible plan to reduce carbon emissions. Canadians are committed to fighting climate change; the Conservative Party must be equally committed.
All else is negotiable, but for the Conservatives to win government, those three conditions must be met.
The Tories lost because Andrew Scheer failed to appeal to the millions of voters in suburban Ontario who decide elections. A month after the election, opinion is coalescing within the party that he will do no better next time out. Unless Mr. Scheer can change people’s minds, and quickly, then that’s all she wrote.