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The ONW Salon: Where Will Scheer Lead The CPC?

The Conservative Party of Canada has a new leader - Andrew Scheer.  It's only days into his term and already critics are calling him a hostage of social conservatives - something his supporters deny. What will the new CPC leader mean for the policies and politics of both the Conservative Party itself and the political dynamic in Ottawa? We asked Richard Mahoney, John Capobianco and Tom Parkin for their takes.


John Capobianco:

I am thrilled by Andrew Scheer's victory, and judging by the reaction of the 2,000 Conservatives who attended the convention, er, leadership event, so is the party. I have been to many, many conventions and I have never seen or heard an entire room chant the winner's name - usually you would hear the winning candidates' section cheering wildly for their candidate's win while others sit on their hands or leave the hall. But in this instance, literally as Andrew got up on the stage, the entire room was in unity.

Many folks in the media and some pundits had predicted a Maxime Bernier win going into the weekend and they would have thought so based on polling and the recent endorsement Maxime received from rival candidate Kevin O'Leary. They were right to think that, but as the race closed there was a general sense amongst party members that either Andrew Scheer or Erin O'Toole was sneaking up the middle and positioning themselves as "compromise" candidates for those who thought Maxime's libertarian policies too extreme.

However, Andrew ended up running a safe campaign with ideas and policies largely from former conservative doctrines that were tried and tested amongst party supporters, and he stayed away from negative campaigning against his competitors. That worked well in our preferential balloting system.

Andrew has been handed a strong party financially, with membership of over a quarter million supporters, and a united party. My opposition friends will of course try to paint him as a social conservative because that is all they have on him, but the reality is that he has been clear on social issues and has set out his priorities, which are: allowing for families to prosper; standing up for freedom of speech; and representing ordinary Canadian taxpayers.


Richard Mahoney:

Andrew Scheer had an impressive victory on the weekend and for that deserves congratulations. We are all still trying to make sense of why and how he won, how the favoured Maxime Bernier lost, and what the implications are for the Conservative Party and for Canadian politics. Much of that is still to be seen, of course, in the months and years ahead. But we learned several things through the course of the campaign.

I think John’s comments that Scheer positioned himself as a “compromise” candidate and that Bernier’s libertarian views were too “extreme” for many Conservatives is probably right (and John would know more about that than I do!)

Scheer’s positioning as a solid social conservative may not sit well with many progressive and moderate Canadians, but they are in sync with most grass roots Conservatives, who have never been comfortable with a woman’s right to choose, same- sex marriage equality before the law and a host of other social or human rights issues.

Scheer's promise to allow free votes on this would appeal to many Conservatives. And while Liberals and New Democrats will highlight that fact, it will have appeal to many socially conservative Canadians who aren't yet prepared to accept those ideas and realities.

Scheer's sunny optimism is an interesting development. Much was made of his friendly manner, and how that distinguishes him, and now the Conservatives, from the approach of the founder of the modern Conservative Party, Stephen Harper - not exactly a "sunny ways" kind of guy. True, but Conservatives have mocked Justin Trudeau for his optimism and criticized his youth. At 45, he is seven years older than Scheer, whose sole experience outside politics is six months as an insurance broker.

Finally, it was strange how little mention there was of Harper. No tribute, no thank you evening to the man who won three elections for them, and gave most of those candidates their start in politics. It is normal after a defeat for new candidates to want to turn the page. It is some kind of forced collective amnesia to barely mention the last leader. Rona Ambrose was lauded for being an interim leader. Stephen Harper? Apparently, he never happened.  


Tom Parkin:

Andrew Scheer has significant deficiencies as a Conservative leader, which I believe will keep the Conservatives outside the mainstream debate in 2019.

Scheer is inexperienced. He was working full-time for the Conservative Alliance when he was 21 years old and was elected MP at 25. Except for a brief job as an insurance broker – a job received from a failed Saskatchewan Party candidate who owned the brokerage – I can’t see any evidence of any private sector employment. Certainly not in any management or leadership role.

When the Harper Conservatives formed a cabinet, Scheer wasn’t part of it – his preference was to be Commons Speaker. A young, ambitious politician who doesn’t seek power and prefers a more ceremonial position is strange to me.

Taken together with his very early desire to be elected, I wonder if Andrew Scheer is more driven by prestige than a desire to make change. His father was a Catholic deacon – is this the son’s way of preaching to the assembled parish?

That bit of psychological speculation aside, it is a fact that Scheer has no experience as a minister, and as Speaker, wasn’t even part of the caucus and the difficult debates it had.

In this leadership race, that isolation from the centre of power was obviously a benefit. Maxime Bernier almost won with no support from caucus. As Speaker, Scheer made a key decision that allowed backbench social conservatives the chance to raise their concerns – concerns Harper didn’t want to hear – which obviously paid off in the race.

But I am very dubious that an inexperienced leader who says he will be first among equals is a recipe for building the effective fighting force to win in 2019.


John Capobianco:

A couple of issues to address in Richard's and Tom's submissions.

First with Richard. The claim we are hearing from Liberals since Andrew's win is his social conservative position, which as Richard suggests, doesn't sit well with many progressive conservatives - he is right.

However, what is important to all conservatives is their freedom of speech, unlike what the Liberals practiced before the last election, which was to limit freedom of speech by not allowing anyone to run for elected office if they held a view contrary to their leader. Imagine that!

Andrew has made his personal beliefs clear as he has made his priorities clear on the issue of abortion and same-sex marriage, which is that these two issues have been debated, voted on and are law. He isn't going to touch them or reopen the debate on them - full stop. He said this during the campaign and since he became leader.

So I guess when you have a leader without baggage like Andrew, this is the only thing the critics can try to label him with. But they need to be careful, because this will start a debate on freedom of speech, and Richard's party hasn't been doing too well on that front.

Now Tom. Tom goes after his experience and his age.  Both are qualities his current leader has in abundance and they didn't work out so well. And, the Conservatives tried very hard to go after PM Trudeau's age and inexperience and that didn't work well either. Canadians are far more sophisticated when it comes to whom they vote for in election campaigns.

As well, it's important to note that Andrew's constituents are not bothered in the slightest about his experience or his age - they have elected Andrew in five general elections, which is no small feat. Oh, and Tom - Andrew beat out a very popular NDP MP.


Richard Mahoney:

Tom’s observations about Scheer’s inexperience are fair and are flaws he will have to try to address. I guess the Conservative attacks on Justin Trudeau’s relative youth were not to be taken seriously! In any event, Scheer will face off against an experienced world leader in the next election. Scheer will attack Trudeau’s leadership on climate change, and will promise to reverse the progress Canada and the rest of the world is finally starting to make on the gravest threat to our planet.

Will he also oppose the historic deal Trudeau made to enhance the Canada Pension Plan – securing the retirement future of millions of Canadians who live and work in an economy where most of us don’t have adequate pension plans through our employment? Will he allow his socially conservative base to reverse important issues like equality?

The race energized that part of its party- they will expect and presumably demand results.

Scheer faces these and many other challenges. But Liberals will have to take him seriously. He will pose a more socially conservative alternative to Trudeau. He has promised to reverse the progress Canada has made on climate change. He will promise to reduce taxes on wealthy Canadians. And he will do so in a friendly manner. That will have some appeal. The debate is on, and that is good thing.  


Tom Parkin:

The Conservatives have 99 seats and need to win another 75 to have a comfortable majority. I have difficult time finding them. And I believe that lack of growth potential may create opportunity for the New Democrats.

Geography doesn’t help Scheer. There are no more seats for the Conservatives to win in Saskatchewan, though perhaps a western Conservative could take back some seats in Calgary. But that’s just a handful.

I can’t see him finding a big haul of seats in Quebec. Though his French is good enough, most Quebecers are very suspicious of religious leaders – witness the debates about secularism. Quebecers are pro-choice, pro-marriage equality and concerned about climate change – even more so than elsewhere. The Conservatives have 10 seats in Quebec. I can’t envision an increase.

I have difficultly imagining an Andrew Scheer Conservative Party winning much in Atlantic Canada. I would suggest his ideological positioning is a problem in urban Atlantic ridings. And there just aren’t very many rural ones.

The big target has to be suburban Toronto and Vancouver. Stephen Harper won a big chunk in both – which propelled him to power. And, once again, his social conservative positioning is a barrier to growth.

However, I expect the Liberals will do their best to build up the Scheer threat, finding ways to generate a culture war that makes him appear scary and an electoral threat. Liberals know that NDP votes can be accessed through the old strategic voting ploy, but that requires the actual threat of a Conservative government.

If the Liberals fail to boost the Conservatives, the cultural war will not engage and politics will shift to a mainstream right-left debate, which can benefit NDP. The NDP needs to win about 30 seats from the Liberals to reduce them to a minority of seats. That’s a do-able task.  A minority parliament can open up a range of possibilities for reform - as we are seeing in BC - and could be very motivating for left-of-centre voters.

Richard Mahoney is a lawyer with deep experience in politics and governance.  He is a former senior advisor to the Rt. Hon Paul Martin, a former Campaign Chair and President of the Ontario Liberal Party. John Capobianco is a Senior Partner and National Public Affairs Lead at FleishmanHillard. He has been a Conservative strategist with over 30 years of political activism at all three levels, including as a former federal Conservative candidate. Tom Parkin is a veteran NDP strategist and a frequent commentator on national issues. 






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