Scheer safety for the Con­ser­va­tives

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - John Roe

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.

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