Several Conservative campaign managers in the Toronto area said the party’s stand on LGBTQ issues, women’s reproductive rights and climate change hurt them in the election, while Andrew Scheer blamed the media in private recordings obtained by The Globe and Mail.
Meanwhile, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister said Mr. Scheer will likely need two-thirds support in his April confidence vote to stay on as leader.
Mr. Scheer is holding meetings across Canada – including one in Toronto on Monday night where the recordings were made – with candidates, campaign managers and volunteers as he looks to hold onto his job in the face of growing dissent within his own party.
Outside of a volunteer reception of about 150 volunteers at a downtown Toronto hotel on Monday, however, several Conservatives remained supportive of Mr. Scheer, who they said deserved a chance to lead the party into the next election.
“Coming out now and gunning for the leader is not helpful in any way, shape or form,” said former Conservative MP Costas Menegakis, who lost in Richmond Hill, Ont., in the Oct. 21 vote by about 200 votes. “Our focus is Justin Trudeau, it’s not our leader.”
Mr. Scheer, who has said he is staying on as leader, has called criticisms of his leadership an “unfortunate” feature of Conservative Party politics. “[Mr. Scheer] looks forward to engaging in more of these sessions moving forward and listening to the perspectives of others on how we can improve on our results and win the next election," Conservative Party spokesman Cory Hann said.
In a recording of a private meeting between Toronto-area campaign managers and Conservative Party official Dan White, local organizers said concerns around the party’s policies on LGBTQ rights and women’s reproductive rights, as well as climate change, stopped voters from backing them.
That message was delivered by organizers representing ridings in Toronto’s core, as well as a riding north of the Greater Toronto Area. The Globe and Mail obtained a recording of the meeting, and a separate one of Mr. Scheer’s remarks at a volunteer reception. Both recordings were made by people in the room; The Globe is not identifying them because they were private meetings.
Allan Williams, a Conservative campaign manager in the riding of Toronto-St. Paul’s, confirmed to The Globe that he spoke in Monday’s meeting and told Mr. Scheer directly that the party wasn’t able to reach potential voters because Canadians “can’t get past our values.”
“They don’t think we have a credible position on climate change. And they don’t think we have a leader who believes in his heart that gay people are morally equivalent to straight people, and that we have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else,” Mr. Williams said in an e-mail to The Globe.
Another campaign official is heard on the recording saying the party’s climate change policy was a deal breaker because it was difficult to read and released late in the campaign. He also said LGBTQ rights, same-sex marriage and abortion came up on the doorsteps.
In addition, one official cited Mr. Scheer’s sidelining of Ontario Premier Doug Ford as leaving the party vulnerable, while another person said Mr. Scheer needs to show more confidence and dynamism.
In his own meeting with volunteers, Mr. Scheer is heard on the recording saying he had a “frank and honest discussion,” while suggesting he didn’t get a fair shake from the media. Asked about his comments, his office noted Tuesday that during the election, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. took the Conservative Party to court over the use of television excerpts in partisan advertising.
“We don’t have all the advantages that the other parties have. I’m not sure if you noticed this, but we don’t always get the same coverage in the media,” Mr. Scheer said to snickers.
Mr. Scheer also said unions and other groups “are trying to confuse our message.” Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, launched an anti-Conservative ad campaign during the race.
Mr. Scheer faces a leadership review at the party’s convention in April and has refrained from specifying what level of support he thinks he needs to stay on.
The Conservative Party’s constitution requires a leader to get just 50 per cent plus one, but in practice the bar has been set higher. For example, Joe Clark called a leadership race in 1983 after he won 67 per cent in a leadership review; and after the 2004 election loss, Mr. Harper said he needed to get at least 80 per cent to stay on, which he did.
Former cabinet minister Peter Van Loan, who attended Monday’s reception in Toronto, said he supports Mr. Scheer, who has shown “forward progress” by gaining seats and winning the popular vote. But ultimately, he said, it will be up to Mr. Scheer and the membership to decide.
“History has told us … that the test seemed to be about two-thirds," Mr. Van Loan said. "If you couldn’t get past the two-thirds, you had some real challenges. And I think that probably still applies in this day and age.”