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Andrew Scheer’s Fight and FlightAndrew Scheer’s Fight and Flight

Andrew Scheer’s Fight and Flight

The Conservative leader couldn’t secure electoral gains he’d already made. But his ouster signals a serious threat to democratic difference and dissent, Peter Stockland writes.

Peter Stockland
3 minute read

In the end, it’s probably just as well for both the Conservative party and Canadians that leader Andrew Scheer resigned today.

Drawing, quartering and hanging might have been all the rage as recently as the Elizabethan era. But it is, to paraphrase a certain prime minister, 2019, and no one gains today by having public political execution preceded by private party dismemberment.

Scheer’s fate was sealed not so much by the results of October’s election as by his astonishing inability in the few weeks after voting day to backspin the devastatingly clever Liberal front-spin about him being unfit for the job.

The Trudeau team began that campaign with the release of a video of Scheer arguing against the legalization of same-sex marriage. It was an outrageous assault on the truth, on Scheer’s privileges as a member of Parliament, and on the freedom of Canadians to peacefully disagree on critical social policy concerns.

The video was almost 15 years old. It was from a House of Commons camera that caught Scheer in the act of addressing a piece of – at the time – highly controversial legislation that a significant percentage of Canadians opposed. In other words, it caught the Saskatchewan MP doing his job.

Neither the party nor Scheer himself displayed the remotest capacity to fight back by hammering home the ready-to-hand counter message about a Liberal party in disarray over the SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal, deep fractures within its own cabinet and caucus over the brutal mistreatment of former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould, and the leadership of a prime minister twice-found guilty of serious ethical violations.

No. They stumbled and staggered through the pre-campaign period – then walked into a baited trap about Scheer’s faith-based opposition to abortion. Lamely, the best defence they could mount (a key measure of their ineptitude was their inability to switch to offense) was that the leader’s beliefs were a private personal matter that he would never impose through statute or regulation on Canadians.

That line of appeal should have been jettisoned five minutes after it became clear it wasn’t working. A powerful substitute was at hand. It required only that Scheer say something along the lines of: “The Liberals and their ethically compromised leader keep wanting to talk about what I won’t do. Let’s talk about what he and they did do. They imposed an ideological loyalty test on Canadian university students through the Canada Summer Jobs program that took money from the pockets of young men and women trying to earn tuition for crucially needed higher education. They then turned around and assaulted the rule of law by interfering in a legal case that sought to bring corporate plutocrats to account for corrupt involvement with the terrorist Gaddafi family. No wonder they want to talk about what isn’t going to happen. It helps them hide from Canadians their shame at what they’ve done.”

Even in chichi Toronto, that might have shaken at least a few more votes loose. Nothing of the sort remotely came close to passing the Conservative leader’s lips. Even without it, he still managed to gain hundreds of thousands of votes back from those lost at the end of the Harper era, and pick up sufficient seats to put the party within next-election striking distance of the Liberals.

The election aftermath, not the actual campaign failures themselves, should go down in history as one of the most futile efforts ever waged by a Canadian political leader simply to hold on to what he’d already won.

Beyond the relief of being spared watching a party leader’s political blood spilled repeatedly during the three-month eternity of inevitable knifings before the Conservative’s spring convention, Canadians should feel genuine concern about the long-term result of  elevating Scheer’s rookie bungling into alleged bone-deep unfitness for the role. The harm done far transcends any ego wounds or sense of personal injustice he might feel at being forced out.

What has been crushed today is the spirit of vivid political dissent. What has been violated is the democratic entitlement, protected by the Charter of Rights, to peacefully and conscientiously disagree with the fashions of the day while accepting the obligation to govern according to the balance of majority will. What has been tossed aside is the foundational ideal that parliamentary opposition remains, in our Westminster system, inherently an act of loyalty and so a public good.

Alas, the departing Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition was unable to meet even halfway the Liberals’ schema. Did that mean Andrew Scheer had to go? The question is academic. Go he has.

What Canadians must hope for now is a successor with both the talent and the tenacity to renew the spirit of dissent, to oppose what merits opposing loyally and well.  

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