Well, most people didn't see that coming. In a nail-biting race tonight that saw candidates drop off one-by-one over 13 ballots, Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer triumphed over early frontrunner Maxime Bernier 51 to 49 per cent to become the new leader of the Conservative Party. Mr. Scheer will be only the second leader the modern party has ever had, after Stephen Harper.
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WHO IS ANDREW SCHEER?
Mr. Scheer, 38, was the youngest leadership candidate and has spent nearly his entire adult life in politics. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 2004, representing a Regina riding (though he grew up in Ottawa). Through the near-decade of Harper government, Mr. Scheer never served in cabinet – instead he focused on parliamentary procedure, rising to Speaker of the House of Commons between the 2011 and 2015 elections. He is the youngest Speaker that Canada has ever had. The congenial Mr. Scheer has always been popular with his colleagues – he boasted plenty of endorsements from his fellow Conservative MPs in the race, he served as his caucus' House Leader after the 2015 election and, it's worth noting, the position of Speaker is elected by MPs in a secret ballot. By contrast, Mr. Bernier relied on the strength of his libertarian principles and had few endorsements from his colleagues. (Mr. Bernier did, however, raise more money.
Mr. Scheer ran on a fiscally conservative platform, promising to balance the federal budget in two years, open up the airline industry to foreign competition and create tax exemptions for parents of students in independent schools and parents collecting Employment Insurance benefits. He is also seen as supported by the social-conservative wing of the party, owing to policies such as a pledge to take away funding from universities that don't protect freedom of speech.
And one bit of familial trivia: his brother-in-law is Jon Ryan, punter for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.
VIEWS ON THE NEW LEADER
John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail): "The genial former Speaker of the House of Commons, despite a seasoning of socially conservative policies, is likely to be more saleable against Justin Trudeau's Liberals in the next election – much more a Stephen Harper 2.0, but with a smile."
Paul Wells (Maclean's): "His preference for leaving third rails untouched – supply management, medicare – means he makes a smaller target than Bernier would have, though have no fear, the Liberals will still find reasons to take their potshots."
Stephen Maher (iPolitics): "The problem for the Conservatives is that most Canadians are not socially conservative, and the people whose votes decide elections in this country – like suburban women – are not required to listen politely to social conservatives. The next election will be decided by millennial voters, who have more socially liberal attitudes than their parents."
THE CHALLENGES AHEAD
Now the work begins on the next race: the 2019 federal election. Nanos Research conducted a poll for The Globe prior to the convention that gauges where Conservative leadership hopefuls stand not just against each other, but against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals. Only 4.1 per cent of Canadians thought that Mr. Scheer would make the best prime minister among all the leadership candidates – though other results suggest Mr. Scheer may have room to grow on people once more Canadians become familiar with him. 16.6 per cent of Canadians are more likely to vote Conservative in 2019 if Andrew Scheer is leading the party, which polled nearly 13 per cent behind Mr. Bernier. On the other side of the question, 48 per cent of Canadians would be less likely to vote for Mr. Scheer.
Although it has been a common tactic for leadership candidates to attack the Liberals' economic record, 38 per cent of Canadians think that the Liberals have the best plan to manage the economy. In comparison, only 30 per cent think that the Conservatives are right for the job. Additionally, 15 per cent of Canadians are unsure, indicating room for growth for each of the parties. While Conservative leadership candidates across the spectrum have been touting a future filled with balanced budgets, Finance Canada estimates that the Liberals will run a $23-billion deficit during their first full fiscal year in power.
Although the Trump administration has been in power for just over four months, they've already had a profound impact on Canadian policy makers on everything from trade and immigration to climate change and resource development.
Forty per cent of Canadians think that the governing Liberals would be most likely to be able to work with the White House compared to 35.1 per cent who think the Conservatives are best suited to work with the Republicans.
VIEWS ON THE RACE
John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on challenging Justin Trudeau: "The new leader of the Conservative Party...must confront a simple truth. The party is not competitive. He or she will have only two years to change that. And contrary to popular belief, two years is not a long time in politics."
Adam Radwanski (The Globe and Mail) on the next campaign: "No matter how many dues-paying members the Conservatives could boast, mobilizing them to knock on doors in ridings during campaigns or even just serve as local ambassadors for the party was something Stephen Harper's team increasingly failed to do as his era wore on."
Andrew Coyne (National Post) on the leadership contest's upsides: "The race became, almost by default, what everyone professes to want: a contest of ideas, in which all the major strains of Conservative opinion were represented. Much of this can be attributed to the very things the critics complain about. The sheer length of the race provided ample time to stress-test attractive-sounding but ill-considered proposals – Leitch's 'values test' comes to mind."
Susan Delacourt (iPolitics) on learning in opposition: "While there may be all kinds of high-spirited talk about winning and trouncing the Liberals in 2019 after the ballot results are announced at the Congress Centre on Saturday night, the smart minds of the party will be thinking about what they've been learning in defeat."
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