Conservative MPs opt not to force vote on Andrew Scheer’s leadership
Conservative MPs decided Wednesday to leave Andrew Scheer’s fate to party members and not invoke their right to remove him as leader.
It was theoretically possible for Conservative MPs to turf their leader at Wednesday’s caucus meeting, but a long procession of MPs publicly voiced their support for Scheer after last month’s election which gave the Liberals a minority government.
MPs were still in a marathon caucus meeting as of 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, but party officials confirmed that caucus did not vote to give themselves the option to remove him as leader.
Although the party gained seats and beat Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in the popular vote, it was a discouraging outcome for some Conservatives who felt the scandal-plagued Trudeau had handed them a golden opportunity.
On their way into the meeting, publicly at least, the MPs showed unanimous support for Scheer, although many expressed a desire for an “honest assessment” of the election.
Former Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, who lost her seat in Milton to a Liberal challenger, told reporters she wanted to hear what happened in “every riding” before she started worrying about who to blame.
“We don’t have the luxury of time, but we do have the luxury of getting it right,” Raitt said.
Manitoba MP Candice Bergen cautioned against “making changes just for the sake of making changes,” and said she trusted the grassroots members of the party to make the right decision on the leader.
Some MPs were willing to name areas for improvement in the party’s electoral strategy. British Columbia MP Mark Strahl said he was curious why the party stumbled in urban areas in most of the country but not in his home province.
Alberta MP Michelle Rempel said the Conservatives failed to connect on social issues during the election campaign and said the party could be more vocally in support of the LGBT community.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer addresses supporters after he lost to Justin Trudeau in the federal election, in Regina on Oct. 21, 2019. Todd Korol/Reuters
Rempel said the Trudeau Liberals say all the right things, but don’t back it up with action, which could leave an opening for the Conservatives.
“A lot of Justin Trudeau’s actions have been largely symbolic,” said Rempel. “We have to take action that is more than symbolism.” Rempel said that would take the focus off whether politicians march in Pride parades and on to more substantive issues.
During the campaign, Scheer was criticized for not marching in Pride parades and he fielded multiple days of questions about his views on abortion and same-sex marriage.
Some senators from Quebec — who held their own meeting Tuesday night — were openly critical.
Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais said the first French debate was “catastrophic” for the Conservatives in Quebec, and that the party can’t win in his province as long as Scheer remains the leader.
We don’t have the luxury of time, but we do have the luxury of getting it right
Sen. Claude Carignan said the election was over for the party in Quebec several weeks before the first debate, when Scheer fumbled repeated questions about whether the abortion issue.
Carignan didn’t rule out Scheer remaining as leader, but he said without changes to his team, his approach to abortion and his message in the pivotal battlegrounds of Quebec and Ontario, it will remain difficult for the party to win under Scheer’s continued leadership.
Former Tory cabinet minister Peter MacKay told a Washington, D.C. panel about the Canadian election that the “stinking albatross” of social conservatism was what torpedoed the party’s election hopes. Although he later expressed support for Scheer, MacKay’s comments were interpreted by some supporters and critics as an opening salvo in a bid to topple the Conservative leader and spark a leadership contest.
Scheer will face a leadership review at the party’s April convention in Toronto and is expected to go on a cross-country listening tour ahead of the vote to shore up support.
Peter MacKay with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer at a campaign rally in Little Harbour, N.S., Oct. 17, 2019. Carlos Osorio/Reuters
Conservatives will be taking note of a recent Angus Reid poll that showed the party divided on the issue of Scheer’s leadership. According to the pollster, 42 per cent of people who identified as Conservatives said Scheer should step down as leader, while 41 per cent said he should stay on and 17 per cent weren’t sure.
Those numbers, if they are truly a reflection of how the party members feel about the leader, will be ominous for Scheer. After losing to Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals in 1980, Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark stepped down when only 66 per cent of the membership supported his leadership. Clark said he believed he needed three-quarters to continue as leader.
In 2016, NDP leader Tom Mulcair stepped down after receiving support from only 48 per cent of the delegates at the party’s convention, clearing the way for Jagmeet Singh to take the job and lead the party into the October election.
Conservatives are optimistic on at least one front, though. According to Angus Reid, three-quarters of the party’s members expect that the Liberal government will last fewer than two years, with just about every other party’s supporters expecting a longer reign.
— With files from The Canadian Press