Less than two weeks ago, at the Marriott Hotel in Toronto’s Rogers Centre, Andrew Scheer held a private meeting with about 35 of his party’s Toronto-area candidates from October’s election. The meeting was supposed to last for about an hour. It went on much longer.
Scheer entered the lion’s den in an apparent good mood. And, initially, there was decent support for the notion that Conservatives had to stop the in-fighting and unite around their leader.
But then the criticisms began to emerge. “Our communications need to be much better going forward,” said one defeated candidate. “We need to connect a lot better with the Muslim community,” said another. “We were promised you’d come to my riding, and it never happened,” complained a third.
And on it went.
“There are a million Muslims in the Greater Toronto Area and you turned your back on them,” another charged. “If only you’d have visited a mosque and told those present we want them in our party, the word would have spread through the Muslim community like wildfire and done so much good.”
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But Scheer didn’t. Then came the concerns about Scheer’s lack of comfort with LGBTQ and women’s issues.
“It’s more than your inability to connect with that community. You wouldn’t walk with them,” one candidate said, in reference to Scheer’s unwillingness to march in a Pride parade.
“Women voters want you to not only protect their rights, but promote their rights,” they continued.
Many in the meeting saw that as a fatal flaw in a region where the Liberals swept nearly all 53 seats.
After the election, Scheer tasked former federal and Ontario cabinet minister John Baird with surveying party members across the country on the state of his leadership. Baird has apparently not even finished his report and yet, Scheer saw the writing on the wall. His resignation yesterday will render many of Baird’s findings perhaps moot. But I suspect Baird will have plenty to say about the qualities the next leader needs to have.
At the risk of reflecting a too–central Canadian view, virtually every Conservative supporter I’ve spoken to since the election has indicated it’s time for the party to pick a leader from east of Manitoba. The leaders of the major federal conservative parties of the past 12 years have all been from western Canada: Preston Manning, Deborah Grey, John Reynolds, Stockwell Day, Stephen Harper, Rona Ambrose, and Andrew Scheer.
The thinking is, the party will continue to perform poorly until an eastern Canadian, with a much better understanding of urban and multicultural Canada, is chosen. Many party members automatically look to the last leadership candidates when considering their future choices. If they do, there are almost no options. Scheer’s runner up, Maxime Bernier, has said he’s sticking with his People’s Party, and besides, is a pariah in Conservative circles. Brad Trost, who came fourth, is a westerner even more socially conservative than Scheer — presumably a non-starter in today’s political climate. Michael Chong is from the GTA and represents a suburban/exurban riding, but also supported the carbon tax last time, a problem for too many conservatives. Kellie Leitch is out of politics and out of sight. Former MPs Pierre Lemieux and Lisa Raitt lost their seats in last October’s election. Steven Blaney and Chris Alexander fared poorly in the last leadership convention. And Kevin O’Leary is, well, Kevin O’Leary. He’s unlikely to be atop anyone’s list for the leadership this time.
The one MP who ran last time and acquitted himself well was Erin O’Toole, who came third. O’Toole represents an increasingly urbanizing Durham region, is bilingual, has a military background, and is widely seen as one of Ottawa’s “good guys.” At 46, he’s a year younger than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The other names kicking around include Peter MacKay (who will now have to have the conversation with his wife he told me a few weeks ago he still hadn’t had) and Rona Ambrose (who may love her life in Washington, D.C. too much to jump in). If you’re looking for a couple of real wild cards, how about a Mulroney? No, not Caroline, Ontario’s transportation minister, but rather her brother Mark, who’s much more a chip off his father’s old block than his sister. Or what about former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord, who left office 12 years ago? He served as the chair of Ontario Power Generation for five years before stepping down earlier this year, and is the CEO of Medavie Blue Cross. Lord is 54, and has been out of the spotlight for a while, but has quietly kept his oars in political waters and has never completely given up the idea of returning to public life.
This is a key moment for Canada’s conservatives. They apparently did not make the right choice when they replaced Stephen Harper with Andrew Scheer. They will have another chance, presumably sometime in the next 18 months to choose more wisely.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to Bernard Lord as the chair of Ontario Power Generation. In fact, he stepped down earlier this year. TVO.org regrets the error.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Chris Alexander opted not to run for re-election this October. In fact, he was defeated in 2015. TVO.org regrets the error."