Andrew Scheer has a decent chance of one day becoming prime minister, if he continues to display the political smarts of the past few days.
Opposition parties can self-immolate before getting a chance to seriously challenge a government. But the new Conservative Leader is displaying good sense in handling his early challenges. Stephen Harper's heir appears to have inherited his predecessor's good judgment, which should help him in rebuilding the Conservative coalition.
One right move was keeping Maxime Bernier out of the leadership team that Mr. Scheer unveiled last week. The Conservative Leader must have been tempted to bring him in. Mr. Bernier is still smarting from narrowly losing the leadership race; making him deputy leader would have prevented internal sniping from Bernier loyalists.
But the Beauce MP is strongly libertarian, not particularly loyal and has a tendency toward bad judgment. Mr. Scheer was wise to go with Milton MP Lisa Raitt, who is a more attractive choice personally and politically.
Let's remember how Conservatives win. They take their traditional coalition of rural and Western voters, and then they make a pitch to suburban voters – especially immigrant suburban voters – outside Toronto's and Vancouver's downtowns. We're the party that lowers taxes and balances books and promotes growth and is tough on crime, Conservatives tell them. We're the party that shares your values.
Ms. Raitt – a Greater Toronto MP who is personable and who falls into the category of sensible conservative – will do a much better job of making that pitch than Mr. Bernier.
It is also no surprise that Mr. Scheer passed Mr. Bernier over for Quebec lieutenant, preferring to go with Richmond-Arthabaska MP Alain Rayes. One of the reasons Mr. Bernier lost the leadership contest, according to people on his own team, was that he didn't realize Mr. Scheer was organizing against him in Quebec outside Montreal until it was too late. Mr. Rayes, the former mayor of Victoriaville, used his municipal connections to build support for the Regina MP, and this is his well-deserved reward.
Mr. Bernier and his supporters will, however, have to be accommodated when Mr. Scheer chooses his shadow cabinet, the next big task ahead.
Mr. Scheer has also been adept at issues-management, in particular by turning the settlement of Omar Khadr's lawsuit into the story of the summer and the worst blow the Liberals have suffered since the election.
Every party has a negative brand that leaders try to avoid aggravating: Conservatives are heartless boors; the NDP are naive and humourless; Liberals are condescending elitists.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's explanation for the $10.5-million settlement and apology to Mr. Khadr – that the government simply had no choice – is completely accurate. But the Conservatives have succeeded to stoking public anger, leaving the Liberals sounding like, yes, condescending elitists.
(Liberal complaints that the Conservatives are endangering NAFTA negotiations by stoking anger against the settlement through American media sound positively whiny.)
But Mr. Scheer also wisely refrained from questioning Mr. Trudeau's judgment in choosing Julie Payette for governor-general, after iPolitics reported that she had been charged with second-degree assault in 2011, when her marriage was ending. The charge was later dropped and the record expunged.
The incident needed to be reported, but the Conservatives would have done themselves far more harm than good by making an issue of it.
The Liberals are still flying high in the polls, but polls between elections are of limited value and in any case, it's too soon to know whether and how much the Khadr affair will damage the government's reputation.
More worrying for Conservative prospects is the fact that the economy appears to be chugging along nicely, with no credible economists or think tanks sounding the alarm over the government's chronic deficits.
But such things are out of Mr. Scheer's hands. All he can do is try to keep the Conservative base as united as possible and then present himself to the suburban electors when the time comes.
So far, in these early weeks, that's exactly what he's doing. He's doing a good job.