Scheer’s chal­lenge

The Citizen-Record (Cumberland) - - OPINION -

The early re­views are in, and they are a lit­tle con­fus­ing. The bot­tom line is it may be months be­fore it’s clear which way the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tives are ac­tu­ally go­ing. Af­ter An­drew Scheer won the Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship on the week­end, edg­ing out Maxime Bernier by the slimmest of mar­gins, dis­cus­sion of Scheer took two dif­fer­ent tracks. On one side was the “who is this guy?” dis­cus­sion, while on the other was the dis­sec­tion of his stands on var­i­ous is­sues dur­ing his time in Par­lia­ment.

Since Scheer is far from a par­lia­men­tary neo­phyte – most peo­ple who watch is­sues un­fold in the House of Com­mons know him from his time as Speaker of the House dur­ing the Stephen Harper years. His po­si­tions on is­sues that are im­por­tant to the so­cial con­ser­va­tive side of the party, like op­po­si­tion to abor­tion, are well known.

So­cial con­ser­va­tives may well feel that they now have a bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tive than Bernier would have been for their par­tic­u­lar niche in­ter­ests. The prob­lem is, if they ac­tu­ally do have any ide­o­log­i­cal sway with Scheer, they may well push their own party fur­ther away from electabil­ity.

That is al­most cer­tainly the side of Scheer that the fed­eral Lib­er­als will at­tack first, even though Scheer has been clear that his per­sonal views do not mean that he plans to re­open di­vi­sive ar­gu­ments of that kind.

What Scheer will have to do – and quickly – is start to de­fine what he plans to do, rather than what he plans not to do. He’s been clear that he wants Par­lia­ment to work bet­ter, to be more ef­fec­tive and less di­dac­tic. He’s talked about mak­ing trade deals more bal­anced, and has called for stronger Cana­dian ef­forts against ISIS. About the need for Cana­di­ans to buy Cana­dian, rather than for­eign, fu­els (im­plicit in that, prob­a­bly, is sup­port for pipe­lines, as well) and about tax breaks for home school­ing and in­de­pen­dent schools.

In other words, his past words have framed him as a bit of an ar­che­typal old-school rural Con­ser­va­tive. (His home rid­ing is Regina, but he’s pri­mar­ily, in truth, an Ot­tawan.)

But at this stage, the di­rec­tion he plans to take is far from clear.

In his vic­tory speech, Scheer talked about the need for the Con­ser­va­tive party to be a big tent, with plenty of room for dif­fer­ent views – that is, of course, the model that fi­nally led the Tories back to power un­der Stephen Harper.

What’s yet to be seen is in what part of the ide­o­log­i­cal camp­ground Scheer will de­cide to push in the tent pegs, and whether his de­ci­sions will pull peo­ple into the tent, or keep them away.

The plain truth is that he can’t af­ford to have any Tories feel like they are on the out­side look­ing in. And that is a very dif­fi­cult bal­anc­ing act.

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