Tories’ bon cop/ bad cop scenario
Canadians appear to regard the prospect of Andrew Scheer as prime minister with the same incredulity audiences at the premiere of Conan the Barbarian might have greeted the news they were watching the future governor of California.
Tracking polls suggest the Conservatives are trailing the Liberals by around 10 percentage points and the new leader has not had the customary bump in popularity he might have expected in his honeymoon period.
There are already rumblings that the Tories may have made a massive miscalculation in choosing the bashful Scheer.
But some perspective is in order. The Conservative leader is up against a man who may be the most popular politician in the world.
Canada has just been voted the most positive influence in global affairs and much of the credit for that goes to Justin Trudeau, the ShamWow Guy of international relations.
Scheer can’t possibly compete with that level of political showmanship. All he can do is wait and hope that Canadians will eventually tire of the Liberals — something that, realistically, looks unlikely to happen before 2019.
But if winning the next election looks a long shot, holding the Liberals to a minority government does not. Trudeau would have to lose just 15 seats to see his majority eroded — and there is enough discontent brewing in places like Atlantic Canada, Alberta and British Columbia to suggest this is a realistic possibility.
The Conservative leader would be well-positioned to bid for power in 2023, at the grand old age of 44, if he can improve on the status quo in two years time.
Scheer unveiled the team he is likely to lead into the 2019 election Wednesday and there was enough evidence to suggest he has learned the lessons of recent Conservative history.
Success under Stephen Harper was based on party unity, moderation, inclusiveness and toughness.
Unity is key and the new leader has included rivals from most wings of the party, including the man he pipped on the 13th ballot, Maxime Bernier, as the critic for science and economic development.
Bernier had sought the finance file but it seems that by handing him the consolation prize of another economic portfolio, honour has been satisfied and unity preserved.
There were few surprises in the shadow cabinet, with the exception of Kellie Leitch being excluded and Pierre Poilievre being handed the finance role.
The latter was once accused by Mulcair of displaying “smarmy arrogance” and there’s no doubt he rubs many people the wrong way.
But he and Scheer entered politics at the same time and he has matured into one of the Tories’ most effective performers in the House of Commons.
It seems very likely that Scheer and Poilievre will evolve a bon cop/bad cop double act. As former British prime minister Clement Attlee once put it about his foreign secretary: “It’s a good maxim that if you have a good dog, you don’t bark yourself.”
Like Attlee, Scheer seems comfortable sharing the spotlight with more voluble colleagues — Bernier, Poilievre and other former rivals such as Erin O’Toole in foreign affairs and Lisa Raitt as deputy leader.
He may end up being accused of being too laconic and lacking in charisma — Winston Churchill levelled the charge at Attlee that he was a “sheep in sheep’s clothing.”
But Churchill lost to the dull Attlee in 1945, when voters sought change.
Scheer’s efforts to hold Trudeau to a minority in 2019 will be greatly aided if the NDP can revive itself. The party’s over-long leadership race will culminate in the next six weeks and it appears to be a two-horse race. New membership numbers released this week indicate either Jagmeet Singh or Charlie Angus will succeed Tom Mulcair as leader. Singh’s camp says he has signed up 47,000 of the 124,000 members the party says are eligible to vote. Angus’s team says his support is comparable, and he may have the advantage of broader late ballot support from members supporting other candidates as their first choice.
Either would provide the NDP with an energy it has been missing since Mulcair was ousted 16 months ago.
No one should read too much into the mid-term polls. Certainly the Liberals don’t — they are fresh off their own cabinet shuffle and Wednesday saw a number of chiefs of staff moved into new positions.
The lesson from California is that politics is a funny old game. If a monosyllabic Austrian cyborg can win the top job in American’s most populous state, there’s hope yet for Andrew Scheer.
UNITY IS KEY AND THE NEW LEADER HAS INCLUDED RIVALS FROM MOST WINGS OF THE PARTY.
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, in his office on Parliament Hill last week, seems comfortable sharing the spotlight with more voluble colleagues, writes columnist John Ivison.