Per­fect can­di­date for growth,

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - Tim Harper

In the hours and days af­ter Justin Trudeau van­quished Stephen Harper in 2015, no less a pun­dit than Jason Ken­ney of­fered a tren­chant anal­y­sis.

Con­ser­va­tives, he said, needed their own sunny and op­ti­mistic brand.

“We got the big things right. We got the tone wrong,” he said.

Ken­ney, of course, de­camped for Al­berta, join­ing a gag­gle of party heavy­weights who sat out this lead­er­ship race, but Satur­day night in a packed air­port con­fer­ence cen­tre in Etobicoke, a sun­nier, more op­ti­mistic brand of con­ser­vatism was in­tro­duced. Andrew Scheer, come on down. Scheer car­ries with him a boy­ish charm and an imp­ish grin. If he wanted to steal the laces from your shoes, he would do so with such a be­nign and in­of­fen­sive man­ner, it would prob­a­bly take you four days to re­al­ize they were miss­ing.

When he meets with his cau­cus in Ot­tawa on Mon­day he will do so as a younger, less hard-edged Harper, a nat­u­ral heir to the for­mer prime min­is­ter whose name was so rarely heard dur­ing the Toronto gath­er­ing.

That changed when Scheer took the stage to ac­cept his nar­row vic­tory. The for­mer Com­mons speaker had no hes­i­ta­tion in pay­ing trib­ute to Harper.

He thanked the for­mer prime min­is­ter, told party mem­bers he en­joyed work­ing un­der a man “who will al­ways stand tall in the Con­ser­va­tive move­ment.”

But Scheer has a po­ten­tial prob­lem. He must prove he is not be­holden to the so­cial con­ser­va­tive wing of the party for his ra­zor-thin win over for­mer cab­i­net min­is­ter Maxime Bernier.

He must learn from Harper and from for­mer Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive leader Brian Mul­roney.

Scheer may be pitch­ing him­self as a uniter and a con­sen­sus-builder, but a 50.95-per-cent vic­tory is hardly a mas­sive man­date from his party.

He must learn from Mul­roney’s style in keep­ing a some­times frac­tious cau­cus to­gether.

Mul­roney was a mas­ter at keep­ing in­ter­nal fires from flar­ing into in- fer­nos, but he did it in gov­ern­ment. It will be tougher for Scheer in op­po­si­tion.

And Scheer must em­u­late Harper in keep­ing the so-cons at bay, be­cause to let them off the leash is to dam­age the party brand.

The new leader is a so­cial con­ser­va­tive, but he watched Harper lay down the law with those in the cau­cus who sought to re­open abor­tion and same-sex mar­riage de­bates.

To cross the fin­ish line, Scheer must thank fel­low Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost, a man who fared much bet­ter than many thought, a mes­sage to the party that its so­cial con­ser­va­tive wing is alive and mus­cu­lar.

This is the same Trost who won ap­plause from the con­ven­tion floor Fri­day night by deny­ing cli­mate change. This is the Trost whose cam­paign spokesper­son sent out a video telling Con­ser­va­tives “in case you haven’t no­ticed, Brad’s not en­tirely com­fort­able with the whole gay thing.”

Trost en­dorsed the video, say­ing he would never at­tend a Pride event and would end fund­ing for them.

This is the same Trost who em­barked on a lead­er­ship cam­paign af­ter the party de­cided to put op­po­si­tion to same-sex mar­riage be­hind it.

This is the same Trost who was en­dorsed by the Cam­paign Life Coali­tion, which boasted about the “prin­ci­pled, bold” cam­paign by he and fel­low so­cial con­ser­va­tive Pierre Lemieux and said it was look­ing for­ward to work­ing with Scheer on “gen­der­cide abor­tions and pro­tec­tion for pre­born vic­tims of crime.”

Trost said his fourth-place fin­ish showed he is in the main­stream of to­day’s Con­ser­va­tive party, but he’s try­ing to halt a train that left the sta­tion years ago.

Scheer, af­ter vic­tory, was happy to talk about bal­anc­ing bud­gets, end­ing cor­po­rate wel­fare, his danger­ous pol­icy of with­hold­ing fund­ing from uni­ver­si­ties that shut down de­bate and killing the Lib­eral car­bon tax.

He didn’t men­tion so­cial pol­icy in his speech and tried to shut down those ques­tions in post-vic­tory in­ter­views.

These Con­ser­va­tives ap­pear some­times con­flicted about how to take on Trudeau in 2019, a con­tra­dic­tory strat­egy of try­ing to “out-sunny” him or at­tack him.

This was best summed up by for­mer in­terim leader Rona Am­brose, who told the con­ven­tion that the de­scrip­tion of her­self she loved best was one which char­ac­ter­ized her as both com­pas­sion­ate and able to “kick Trudeau in the balls.” Scheer will at­tack with a smile. Lib­er­als should re­mem­ber that peo­ple grow into jobs and Scheer is a per­fect can­di­date for growth.

And, an­other thing to re­mem­ber about the sea change in Cana­dian pol­i­tics — with the 38-year-old Scheer in place and with New Democrats eye­ing 38-year-old Jag­meet Singh, Trudeau could be the old­est can­di­date run­ning in 2019, by a fair bit. Tim Harper writes on na­tional af­fairs. Twit­ter: @nut­graf1


Andrew Scheer, with Jack Lay­ton, left, and Stephen Harper in 2011, prom­ises a sun­nier, more op­ti­mistic brand of con­ser­vatism, Tim Harper writes.

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