Tory ‘Odd Cou­ple’ hits the road

Shar­ing a mic with O’Leary high­lights Scheer’s de­fi­cien­cies as a politi­cian

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion - GE­OF­FREY STEVENS Cam­bridge res­i­dent Ge­of­frey Stevens, an au­thor and for­mer Ot­tawa colum­nist and man­ag­ing ed­i­tor of the Globe and Mail, teaches po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Wil­frid Lau­rier Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Guelph. ge­off­[email protected]­pa­tico.ca

They could be billed as the Odd Cou­ple of Cana­dian pol­i­tics: An­drew Scheer and Kevin O’Leary.

Yet there they were last week, the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive leader and the Cana­dian-born celebrity from U.S. tele­vi­sion’s Shark Tank, on the hus­tings to­gether as the Tories tested their train­ing wheels for next Oc­to­ber’s fed­eral elec­tion.

O’Leary, it will be re­called, wanted to be prime min­is­ter and even ran against Scheer for the Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship in 2017, and might have won, un­til he remembered he couldn’t speak French, where­upon he with­drew in favour of Scheer’s ri­val, Maxime Bernier, who has since aban­doned the Con­ser­va­tive party, hav­ing found it to be “morally cor­rupt,” and started his own Peo­ple’s Party of Canada, which is at­tack­ing Scheer’s party from the pop­ulist right, thereby bring­ing the pop­ulist O’Leary rid­ing to Scheer’s res­cue. Got all that? No?

To sim­plify, O’Leary has two po­lit­i­cal as­sets that Scheer lacks: he has star power — he at­tracts at­ten­tion wher­ever he goes; and he knows how to pitch a po­lit­i­cal mes­sage in sim­ple, di­rect terms to the Con­ser­va­tive base. Maxime Bernier also has that knack, as does the bom­bas­tic Doug Ford in On­tario. Scheer doesn’t have it at all.

Con­sider their ap­pear­ance at a ses­sion with stu­dents at Ry­er­son Univer­sity last week. Scheer promFive ised to bring a “pos­i­tive Con­ser­va­tive vi­sion” to Canada, with­out re­veal­ing what that vi­sion might be. Mean­while, O’Leary cut to the chase: “We need a new man­ager, we need a new gov­ern­ment, we need new pol­icy.”

The coun­try, he de­clared, needs sav­ing from “weak, weak man­agers … The whole cab­i­net is weak. It’s a spat­ula we need ... Scrape it clean and start again.”

The spat­ula-scrape-it-clean image sticks. Scheer’s “pos­i­tive Con­ser­va­tive vi­sion” is lost in the fog of pedes­trian po­lit­i­cal rhetoric. It may help to ex­plain why the Con­ser­va­tives are run­ning a poor sec­ond to the Lib­er­als in the polls at a time in the po­lit­i­cal cy­cle when the op­po­si­tion should be able to push the gov­ern­ment to the wall.

The Con­ser­va­tive prob­lem sur­faced again a cou­ple of days later when Gen­eral Mo­tors’ de­ci­sion to close its cen­tury-old Oshawa ve­hi­cle as­sem­bly op­er­a­tion, a plant that once man­u­fac­tured one mil­lion cars a year for the North Amer­i­can market, came up in Ques­tion Pe­riod.

Scheer could rea­son­ably have at­tacked the Lib­er­als for not an­tic­i­pat­ing the GM ac­tion, or for not at­tempt­ing to head it off. In­stead he at­tacked the Lib­er­als’ car­bon tax, ask­ing the prime min­is­ter, “Now that we have seen the im­pact of this pol­icy, chas­ing fu­ture jobs and in­vest­ment away, will he do the right thing and can­cel his car­bon tax?”

Gen­eral Mo­tors is en­gaged in a re­struc­tur­ing of its global op­er­a­tions to meet the re­al­ity of a fu­ture in which cars and trucks will run on elec­tric­ity, not gaso­line or diesel. Al­though Premier Ford’s known hos­til­ity to elec­tric ve­hi­cles may not have helped, no one knowl­edge­able in the in­dus­try thinks the car­bon tax

Does any­one be­lieve that An­drew Scheer could do a bet­ter job than Justin Trudeau in deal­ing with the mer­cu­rial Don­ald Trump?

— which would add an es­ti­mated $30 to the cost of a $22,000 car — was a fac­tor in the GM de­ci­sion.

The Con­ser­va­tives’ fix­a­tion on the car­bon tax, and their in­abil­ity to come up with a vi­able ap­proach of their own to com­bat global warm­ing, un­der­mine their elec­tion strat­egy. They need to per­suade Cana­di­ans that they can gov­ern the coun­try bet­ter than the Lib­er­als be­cause Con­ser­va­tives of­fer su­pe­rior poli­cies and more ef­fec­tive man­age­ment.

But does any­one be­lieve that An­drew Scheer could do a bet­ter job than Justin Trudeau in deal­ing with the mer­cu­rial Don­ald Trump? Would he have been able to get Trans Moun­tain to build the pipe­line that Al­berta des­per­ately needs to get its oil to market? Would he have the flex­i­bil­ity to han­dle the flow of refugees into Canada with­out bar­ring them at the bor­der?

Scheer is no dummy. Per­haps he can out­per­form Trudeau. He is go­ing to have to con­vince Cana­di­ans of that. But barn­storm­ing with Kevin O’Leary seems coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, be­cause shar­ing a mic with such an over­sized per­son­al­ity sim­ply high­lights Scheer’s de­fi­cien­cies as a retail politi­cian.

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