In choos­ing Scheer as new party leader Con­ser­va­tives buck global po­lit­i­cal trend

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - STEPHANIE LE­VITZ TORONTO —

Con­ser­va­tives around the world have sought to shake up the po­lit­i­cal sta­tus quo in the last year, vot­ing for Bri­tain to leave the Euro­pean Union, elect­ing a com­plete po­lit­i­cal neo­phyte as pres­i­dent of the United States.

For a time, it looked like Cana­dian con­ser­va­tives were headed down a sim­i­lar path.

For the first 12 rounds of count­ing Satur­day night, the leader they were poised to elect was Maxime Bernier, a Que­bec MP with a lib­er­tar­ian bent whose pol­icy pro­pos­als in­cluded slay­ing sa­cred cows like sup­ply man­age­ment in agri­cul­ture and fed­eral health care fund­ing.

But in the end, the Tories couldn’t bring them­selves to do it, in­stead hand­ing An­drew Scheer the keys to the Op­po­si­tion leader’s res­i­dence, giv­ing him 50.95 per cent of the avail­able points over Bernier’s 49.05.

Scheer’s cam­paign slo­gan was “Scheer ex­cite­ment,” and there was no doubt in the af­ter­math of his win sup­port­ers were vi­brat­ing with just that.

“He just hit the right bal­ance of val­ues and ex­pe­ri­ence and he was a very gen­uine per­son. He’s the kind of per­son the whole team can rally around. He’s not too far on one di­rec­tion or another,” said sup­porter Les­lie Whicher.

In his plat­form with bou­tique tax cuts, tough talk on ex­trem­ism, even his re­lease of his “five key pri­or­i­ties,” Scheer was also the can­di­date many saw as an echo of Stephen Harper, the party’s first and only leader. So what came to mind for some ob­servers was a but­ton avail­able on the lead­er­ship event floor read­ing “Scheer Bored.”

Scheer is the “Goldilocks” can­di­date, not too hot, not too cold, said Gerry Ni­cholls, the for­mer vice pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Cit­i­zens Coali­tion, a con­ser­va­tive lobby group.

“I guess they call them con­ser­va­tives for a rea­son,” he said.

“They didn’t want to take that rad­i­cal, sort of pop­ulist step, or even maybe that lib­er­tar­ian step. They’d rather just sort of be safe.”

The thing is, said poll­ster Frank Graves, it seemed Con­ser­va­tives were in fact ready to not just take the step, but jump. Most Cana­dian Con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers he’s polled backed not just Trump, but the right-wing can­di­date Ma­rine LePen who mounted a strong cam­paign in the re­cent elec­tions in France.

While yes, so­cial con­ser­va­tives did help Trump win and are un­der­stood to have helped Scheer too, those views are out of lock­step with the ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans and there’s lit­tle po­lit­i­cal trac­tion to be gained from seiz­ing on them na­tion­ally, Graves said.

And while Scheer prom­ises to put an op­ti­mistic, pos­i­tive tone on Con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics and prom­ises, Cana­dian con­ser­va­tives have a dark view of the econ­omy, and like con­ser­va­tives in the U.S. and U.K., have deep con­cerns about free trade and im­mi­gra­tion, Graves said.

“I have no idea how Mr. Scheer will be able to capitalize on that kind of pop­ulist wind,” Graves said.

Kel­lie Leitch had hoped she could, run­ning a cam­paign seiz­ing on pop­ulist themes of anti-elitism and a Cana­dian val­ues test for new­com­ers. She cap­tured seven per cent of the vote on the first bal­lot and never gained more than eight, drop­ping off at the 10th round of count­ing.

This de­spite hav­ing what ev­ery­one said was one of the best or­ga­nized cam­paigns among the 13 can­di­dates in the race, and the fact that she raised over $1.3 mil­lion.

Another can­di­date ad­vo­cat­ing for a 180 de­gree pol­icy turn, Michael Chong, did hang on un­til the 11th round of count­ing.

Those pol­icy dis­cus­sions — the party will con­vene in Hal­i­fax in Au­gust 2018 for its next con­ven­tion — will be of ut­most im­por­tance, said Chris Alexan­der, who sought the lead­er­ship as well but dropped off after the fifth bal­lot.

“Win­ning in a democ­racy is find­ing that fine bal­ance be­tween blow­ing things up and too much in­er­tia,” he said.

“You have to find the sweet spot, turn the page of the past with­out giv­ing up the prin­ci­ples. That’s what we’ll be search­ing for in the weeks and months to come.”

FRANK GUNN, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

An­drew Scheer won the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive Party lead­er­ship in Toronto on Satur­day on the 12th bal­lot over Maxime Bernier.

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