New Con­ser­va­tive leader no stranger to mak­ing his­tory

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - STEPHANIE LE­VITZ

An­drew Scheer is no stranger to mak­ing po­lit­i­cal his­tory.

When he first sought fed­eral po­lit­i­cal of­fice in 2004, he beat out the NDP can­di­date who at the time was the long­est serv­ing MP in the House of Com­mons.

Seven years later, his Con­ser­va­tive party won its first ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment and Scheer, then only 32, would soon be elected Speaker of the House of Com­mons, the youngest per­son ever to hold the sto­ried post.

On Satur­day, he nabbed another place in the his­tory books, be­com­ing only the sec­ond leader ever of the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tives in a nail­biter win over Que­bec MP Maxime Bernier.

Bernier started on his path to the lead­er­ship race years ago. Scheer’s was more re­cent.

In the af­ter­math of the 2015 elec­tion, which put the Con­ser­va­tives in Op­po­si­tion, Scheer gave se­ri­ous thought to seek­ing the role of in­terim leader, which be­came avail­able when Stephen Harper an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion shortly after go­ing down in de­feat to the Lib­er­als.

The in­terim job comes with a catch, warned fel­low Saskatchewan MP Chris Warkentin: you can’t run for the per­ma­nent po­si­tion.

Warkentin looked Scheer square in the eye and said: “Don’t do it.”

Warkentin and oth­ers were look­ing around at who was al­ready test­ing the wa­ters for a lead­er­ship bid.

At the time, it was far from clear whether long­time party heavy­weights Ja­son Ken­ney and Peter MacKay would seek the job.

Chal­leng­ing them would have been fu­tile.

Once MacKay and Ken­ney made it clear their in­ter­ests lay else­where, po­ten­tial sup­port­ers saw a path to vic­tory for the dim­ple-cheeked fa­ther of five.

Born in Ot­tawa but hav­ing spent his adult life on the Prairies, Scheer was a can­di­date of the West and cen­tral Canada.

He was flu­ently bilin­gual, an as­set the party needed to capitalize on its 2015 suc­cess in Que­bec.

And while he was young — he’s now only 38 — he had an air of grav­i­tas that came from his years as Speaker.

“I think that An­drew has demon­strated through this cam­paign the things I rec­og­nized in An­drew a year ago,” Warkentin said.

“He had the abil­ity to con­nect with Cana­di­ans from coast to coast, and if given the op­por­tu­nity to get to know him, they would put their con­fi­dence in him.”

Saskatchewan Sen. Denise Bat­ters de­cided to back Scheer the very day MacKay bowed out.

She’d been a long­time sup­porter of MacKay’s, and said she saw sim­i­lar traits in Scheer: style and sub­stance, a per­fect foil to Lib­eral Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau.

“A bet­ter guy you could not find,” Bat­ters said of Scheer.

“He thinks of his coun­try al­ways No. 1.”

That was Septem­ber 2016, and that week Scheer an­nounced he was step­ping back from his cau­cus po­si­tion as House leader to pur­sue his lead­er­ship bid.

His cam­paign saw him pick up dozens of en­dorse­ments from within the Con­ser­va­tive cau­cus and with­out; a key mo­ment for his cam­paign came when Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall of­fered his sup­port. Another came when farm­ers in Que­bec co­a­lesced around his cam­paign in a bid to stop Bernier.

The lat­ter’s op­po­si­tion to sup­ply man­age­ment was seen as a threat to their liveli­hoods; thou­sands of farm­ers are be­lieved to have bought mem­ber­ships in the party specif­i­cally to vote against Bernier.

In Satur­day’s vote count, Scheer ac­tu­ally won more votes in Bernier’s own rid­ing of Beauce.

So­cial con­ser­va­tives also claim a piece of his prize.

Scheer is pro-life; though he did sup­port the party’s de­ci­sion to strike a pol­icy op­pos­ing same­sex mar­riage from its hand­book, it wasn’t be­cause he sup­ports it.

It was a prag­matic de­ci­sion, he’s said, stem­ming from the fact that the coun­try has just moved on.

FRANK GUNN, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

An­drew Scheer speaks after be­ing elected the new leader of the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive party in Toronto on Satur­day.

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