Past of­fers les­sons for Scheer,

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE -

The Con­ser­va­tives dodged two po­ten­tially deadly bul­lets at their lead­er­ship “event” over the week­end.

They dodged the Maxime Bernier bul­let. By the slimmest of mar­gins, they avoided turn­ing their party over to a man de­ter­mined to dance along ev­ery po­lit­i­cal third rail he could find: un­der­min­ing medi­care, de­fund­ing the CBC, scrap­ping sup­ply man­age­ment . . . and on and on. It would have of­fered a feast for their op­po­nents.

And they dodged the Kel­lie Leitch bul­let. By rel­e­gat­ing her to sev­enth place with just a hair over 7 per cent of the vote, Con­ser­va­tives showed to their credit that they have lit­tle time for Leitch’s brand of na­tivist race-bat­ing. She was never go­ing to win, but a strong show­ing would have been a ter­ri­ble sign for the party, and in­deed for our na­tional pol­i­tics.

In the end, thanks to the mys­te­ri­ous alchemy of their ranked bal­lot vot­ing sys­tem, they ended up with a young, per­son­able leader who is pre­sent­ing him­self as firmly in the tra­di­tion of Stephen Harper — in sub­stance if not in style.

Andrew Scheer will get the ben­e­fit of the doubt for a while from many Cana­di­ans who barely knew who he was be­fore Satur­day evening, and still have only a fuzzy no­tion of what he stands for. But as he comes into fo­cus, they aren’t go­ing to like ev­ery­thing that they see.

Scheer may not be the right-wing ex­trem­ist that Lib­er­als are try­ing to paint him. But there’s no es­cap­ing the fact that his vot­ing record is firmly on the so­cial con­ser­va­tive side of con­tentious is­sues like abor­tion. More im­por­tantly, he owes his vic­tory to sup­port­ers of the unapolo­getic so­cons who showed such un­ex­pected strength in the week­end vot­ing.

Brad Trost, who ended up in fourth place with just over14 per cent of the vote, cam­paigned along with Pierre Lemieux on the old-tyme re­li­gion of so­cial con­ser­vatism – op­po­si­tion to abor­tion and gay rights in par­tic­u­lar. While many were sound­ing the alarm about a right­ist threat from Leitch, it turned out the real sur­prise was the resurgence of the so-con wing of the party.

That’s al­ways part of the Con­ser­va­tive coali­tion, but un­der Harper they were told to pipe down and sit in the back row, lest they spook lib­eral-minded vot­ers the party needed to win power. The risk for Scheer is that they will feel so em­bold­ened by the week­end’s re­sults that they will pres­sure him to at least let so­cial con­ser­va­tive MPs speak out again on their pet is­sues. Lemieux, in par­tic­u­lar, is talk­ing that way.

That would be a dream come true for the Lib­er­als, who are al­ready dan­gling the spec­tre of a rein­vig­o­rated re­li­gious right pulling Scheer’s strings in front of vot­ers.

And it would be a night­mare for Scheer and the Con­ser­va­tives. Surely, if the party has learned any­thing from the past decade and a half it is that it wins only when it stays united and fights the other par­ties for the po­lit­i­cal mid­dle ground. Re­vis­it­ing old de­bates on abor­tion and same-sex mar­riage would be sui­ci­dal.

Scheer clearly know all this, which is why he is par­ry­ing ev­ery at­tempt to get him to talk about so­cial is­sues and the in­flu­ence of the re­li­gious right. Still, he can’t run from his own con­tri­bu­tions to the so-con theme — notably his odd sug­ges­tion that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment with­hold funds from uni­ver­si­ties that fail to up­hold free speech, pre­sum­ably by right-wingers. How that would work is any­one’s guess.

The coun­try needs a strong op­po­si­tion party with a leader wise enough to avoid di­vi­sive dis­trac­tions. It needs a Con­ser­va­tive party with a leader far-see­ing enough to con­cen­trate on putting to­gether a strong al­ter­na­tive pol­icy agenda that draws from the best tra­di­tions of Cana­dian con­ser­vatism.

Andrew Scheer has been handed an op­por­tu­nity to be that leader and forge that party. He will suc­ceed only if he heeds the hard-won les­sons of the con­ser­va­tive move­ment and fo­cuses on core is­sues like the econ­omy and en­sur­ing pros­per­ity for all.

Scheer’s in­fec­tious smile shows he’s al­ready got the style part right. Now it’s time to work on the sub­stance.

Scheer will suc­ceed only if he heeds the hard-won les­sons of the con­ser­va­tive move­ment

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