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.