Andrew Scheer faces a crucial test Wednesday as his MPs consider adopting a measure that would give them the power to oust him as leader of the Conservatives.
The new Conservative caucus will meet for the first time since a disappointing election result in which the party increased its seat count but fell short of forming government. Since then, discontent with Mr. Scheer’s performance in the election has grown and some Conservatives have mused about replacing him.
Mr. Scheer will face a leadership vote at the party’s April convention in Toronto, but his caucus could give itself the power to oust him, without consulting members, at a Wednesday vote in Ottawa.
After each general election, the Reform Act requires all party caucuses to vote on whether to give themselves the power to fire their leader. After the 2015 election, Conservatives voted against adopting that option but sources, granted confidentiality to speak about internal party matters, say MPs are considering adding it to their toolbox.
The caucus includes MPs and senators, but only MPs will be allowed to vote on the issue. The law requires the vote to be recorded, which could be done by holding an open vote or by holding a semi-private one, where just the chair of the meeting knows how each MP cast their ballot.
Conservative MP Mark Strahl, a senior member of Mr. Scheer’s inner circle, said he hopes MPs vote against adopting the power to oust the leader because "our membership should make decisions on leadership, not 121 people in Ottawa.”
“To have an elite group of members of Parliament trying to overturn a [leadership] decision, I think, is ill-advised,” Mr. Strahl said on Tuesday.
Mr. Strahl said he doesn’t see any scenario where Mr. Scheer would leave his post before the April leadership vote from party members. He said Mr. Scheer will give a “strong speech” to caucus on Wednesday and he expects him to keep his job and win the next federal election.
If MPs decide to grant themselves this power, then Mr. Scheer’s fate could be decided before members vote on his position in April. The final process for MPs to oust a leader would be started by at least 20 per cent of them requesting a leadership vote. It would then be voted on by all Conservative MPs in a secret ballot.
Conservative MP Rachael Harder, who said she believes Mr. Scheer has what it takes to be prime minister, urged Conservatives to avoid more infighting.
“Unity needs to be our top priority as we go into this session,” Ms. Harder said.
Tory Senator Claude Carignan avoided commenting on whether Mr. Scheer should stay on. He told reporters on Tuesday the Conservative Leader needs to make changes to his staff and failing to do so would “send a bad message."
“A good leader will surround himself with very competent staff,” he said, adding that Mr. Scheer needs “communications experts.”
He said Mr. Scheer’s handling of the abortion issue during the election was “terrible” and his “hesitation” meant the Tories lost the campaign in Quebec within a week of it starting.
While some Conservatives have privately speculated about replacing Mr. Scheer, few have come to his defence in public.
Defeated Conservative MP Lisa Raitt is an exception and has been one of Mr. Scheer’s most vocal supporters since the election result of Oct. 21. She condemned the “whisper campaign” that she said is hurting the party.
“I’m not happy with all of this skulduggery," Ms. Raitt said. “If you’re going to say something, say it and put your name behind it.”
MP Garnett Genuis said he thinks the internal unrest is being driven by people who are angling for Mr. Scheer’s job.
“If you want to be the leader, and somebody else is the leader, then obviously you’re going to be a bit dissatisfied,” Mr. Genuis said.
As he navigates caucus disappointment in the election, Mr. Scheer will also embark on a cross-Canada tour to hear from the party’s grassroots, the Leader’s office confirmed Tuesday.
The purpose of the meetings is to understand the feedback that local campaigns were getting and identify what needs to change for next time, his office said.
With reports from Janice Dickson, Robert Fife and Daniel Leblanc.