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Scheer’s sunny way will attract disappointed Trudeau voters

Tom Flanagan is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Calgary and a former campaign manager for conservative parties.

Andrew Scheer is the new Conservative leader, beating Maxime Bernier by the narrowest of margins, 51 per cent to 49 per cent. Mr. Bernier campaigned on an adventurous platform of economic libertarianism, including an end to supply management and corporate subsidies, and new approaches to equalization and to health-care funding. Mr. Scheer, in contrast, stressed continuity with past party policy. He positioned himself as the consensus candidate, the leading second or third choice.

Mr. Scheer is 38 years old, young for a political leader but not impossibly so. (Joe Clark became leader of the Progressive Conservatives at 37 and went on to beat Pierre Trudeau in the next election.) Though young, Mr. Scheer already has a lot of political experience. He has represented Regina-Qu'Appelle for 13 years and won five consecutive elections in his riding. He has also been Speaker of the House of Commons and House Leader of the Conservative Party under Rona Ambrose.

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Mr. Scheer's political roots are in Reform and the Canadian Alliance, but he followed Stephen Harper in abandoning the sorts of libertarian policies still favoured by Maxime Bernier. As leader, Mr. Scheer will continue to pursue Mr. Harper's goals of lower taxes, balanced budgets, and closer cooperation with Canada's international allies – things that all Conservatives agree on. Like Brad Wall, premier of his home province of Saskatchewan, he is vociferously opposed to the Liberals' carbon tax and has promised to repeal it, though that may prove difficult to accomplish if and when he finally comes to office.

Mr. Scheer is, in effect, a jollier version of Stephen Harper. Mr. Harper's unique combination of razor-sharp intellect, strategic cunning, and introverted personality made him easy to demonize, leading in extreme cases to HDS (Harper Derangement Syndrome). Mr. Scheer, on the other hand, has a big smile almost constantly plastered on his face. Like Justin Trudeau, he's a young, affable family man. The Liberals and the Liberal-friendly media will certainly attack his policies, but it will be hard for them to paint him as a Machiavellian danger to democracy, as they depicted Mr. Harper.

This could be important in the run-up to the next election. The Liberals tend to do their best when they can paint the Conservative leader as scary, leading would-be NDP and Green supporters to vote Liberal to keep the Conservatives out of power. I call this simple but effective strategy "scaring the crap out of the Dippers." It worked for the Liberals in 2004 and 2015, the two elections that Mr. Harper lost. But it is hard to see it working as well against Mr. Scheer, who is anything but scary.

The New Democrats have been drifting, but once they choose a new leader in October, they will presumably set about explaining to left-wing voters how the Liberals conned them in 2015 election. Mr. Trudeau promised but has now abandoned electoral reform. He said he would adopt the entire United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, but after the election his Justice Minister had to explain that this was constitutionally impossible. The commission on missing and murdered aboriginal women has yet to hold its first public hearing. On the other side, the Liberals have alienated Conservative switchers by immediately breaking their pledge to run no more than a $10-billion budget deficit. By the next election, there may be enough alienated Liberal supporters, on both left and right, to cut into the Liberal majority. For disappointed voters, Mr. Scheer will make a non-threatening, indeed cheerful alternative to Justin Trudeau.

To survive, Mr. Scheer doesn't have to win in 2019, he just has to improve the fortunes of his party, perhaps bringing the Liberals down to a minority. If the NDP experiences a modest revival under new leadership, it could happen.

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