Tories’ bon cop/ bad cop sce­nario

Montreal Gazette - - NAVIGATOR - JOHN IVISON Com­ment

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.

PA­TRICK DOYLE / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

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