Scheer safety for the Conservatives
In electing Andrew Scheer as its new leader, the Conservative Party of Canada has stepped back from the political abyss and planted its feet on safe, centrist ground. But just barely. And that middle ground seems to be a very confined space in today’s Canada.
While the Tories resisted the populist tides sweeping much of the world, while they rejected far-right economics as well as far-right intolerance that would have rendered them both unpalatable and unelectable, they also said no to candidates who preached a more progressive brand of conservatism.
Out of this battle over the party’s future, Scheer emerged from Saturday’s leadership event in Toronto as the answered prayer of the party establishment and, all things considered, a reasonable compromise.
This is an achievement for which he deserves congratulations.
He stands crowned as the rightful heir to Stephen Harper and will proudly carry on the Harper legacy.
It will be seen as a bonus that Scheer can do this with ways that are as sunny and as congenial as the man he would replace as prime minister — Justin Trudeau.
But will this be enough, especially considering Scheer could barely eke out a majority and left Toronto with just 50.95 per cent of the party’s support?
Will this be enough, considering Scheer is a self-proclaimed, unapologetic social conservative who has opposed abortion and same-sex marriage?
Granted, he has repeatedly said these are his personal views that will not find their way into a future Conservative platform. But try telling that to young Canadians for whom abortion rights and same-sex marriages seem as natural as breathing.
Canadians and Conservatives can, at least, celebrate what didn’t happen in this race.
While he was long considered the front-runner, Maxime Bernier and his far-out libertarian ideas finished second.
The Quebec MP’s plans to axe farm marketing boards and federal health transfers while freezing provincial equalization payments were different enough to get him noticed but too wild to ever win a federal election.
The country can also feel reassured by the political demise of Kellie Leitch, the candidate noted mainly for her mean-spirited proposal to test the values of wouldbe-immigrants. She was roundly rejected and captured barely seven per cent of the party’s support.
Conservatives did well to look beyond Bernier and Leitch.
But if you were looking for the party to blaze a bold new trail in federal politics, the leadership race results will disappoint.
Michael Chong, with his commitment to fight climate change and tax carbon emissions, also fared poorly, winning just 10 per cent of support.
And the fact that Bernier came so close to winning, capturing 49.05 per cent of the party’s support, proves many Conservatives are still inclined to lean to the farright of the political spectrum.
Canadians need a strong Official Opposition as well as a government — and prime-minister-in-waiting.
They deserve an alternative with a wide array of intelligent, attractive conservative policy proposals.
Let’s hope Scheer and his party can deliver. Compared to meeting this challenge, staging and winning a leadership race are a cakewalk.
And the safe choice may not get the job done.