Home Page News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Advertising Subscribe Reuse & Permissions
Hill Times Events Hill Times Books Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now

Scheer better define himself, say observers, before he’s pinned as a ‘fuddy-duddy stuck in the ’50s’ 

By Peter Mazereeuw      

Conservatives need to align their policy with Andrew Scheer's brand, says pollster Nik Nanos.

Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer has been criticized in opinion columns recently for not defining himself well enough for voters. Conservative politicos in Ottawa say that is standard fare for new opposition leaders.
The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

The Conservative Party’s policy convention is still eight month away, but leader Andrew Scheer is under pressure to define himself and his revamped party for the Canadian public.

Mr. Scheer’s (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) leadership has come under attack in opinion columns in The Globe and Mail, National Post, and iPolitics recently, with headlines declaring that he is “going nowhere” and his selection as leader was “a mistake,” for reasons including a failure to strongly define himself for the public, and his own socially conservative beliefs.

The Conservatives remain about 10 points behind the Liberals in public opinion polls nationally and have not gained ground among voters over the past several months, despite hammering the government over real and supposed ethical shortcomings, including a finding by the federal ethics commissioner that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) violated a conflict of interest law during his 2016 vacation on the private island of the Aga Khan.

Conservative insiders dismissed the polls and pundits as standard fare for a new opposition leader. But Mr. Scheer—who was elected leader on May 27, 2017, on the 13th ballot with 50.9 per cent of the vote—and his team should begin matching his newly positive, family-friendly persona with fresh policy positions while they work to define themselves in the months ahead, says pollster Nik Nanos, who has been tracking Canadians’ political preferences every week since before the last election.

“It seems that one of the things that Andrew Scheer is trying to accomplish is to portray himself as very family-oriented, a nice and approachable guy, [having] a different style of politics than the previous leader of the Conservative Party of Canada,” said Mr. Nanos.

“What we’ve seen out of the House of Commons and from the Conservatives are policies that are very similar to the previous administration. They’ve focused on issues such as security, immigration and refugees. And it’s hard to build a brand as a nice guy if you’ve got policies that have a harder edge,” he said.  

“Conservatives need a strategy where their policy priorities that they want to put in the window align with the brand priorities that they want to advance for Andrew Scheer.”

Mr. Nanos is chair of the polling firm Nanos Research, which had the Conservatives trailing the Liberals by 10 points on Jan. 5, after closing to three points in mid-October.

Conservative pundits Tim Powers and Yaroslav Baran disputed Mr. Nanos’ assessment that the Conservatives had been unduly focused on negative politics or border policies.

Nik Nanos is the chair of Nanos Research, which polls Canadians on their political preferences every week. The Hill Times file photograph

Under Mr. Scheer, the federal Conservatives have devoted much of their time in Question Period to grilling the government on proposed taxation changes, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.) and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) over potential conflicts of interest and ethical violations. The Conservatives have also hammered the government over its handling of the influx of refugee claimants crossing into Canada illegally from the United States.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill, Alta.), her party’s immigration critic, has called on the government to “close the loophole” in Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, which allows would-be refugee claimants who illegally cross the border away from a regular border checkpoint to make a claim for refugee status to the Immigration and Refugee Board. Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, those who try to claim refugee status at an official border checkpoint on the U.S. border are sent back into the United States.

Beyond responding to government decisions or ministerial missteps, the Conservatives under Mr. Scheer have taken positions on peacekeeping in Ukraine, a U.S. missile defence system, the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, and some other issues.

“He has been coming out on policy. What he doesn’t have yet is a comprehensive platform,” said Mr. Baran, a consultant at Earnscliffe Strategy Group.

Mr. Scheer campaigned for the Conservative Party leadership on a platform that pledged a fight against “radical Islamic terrorism,” carbon taxes, deficit spending, and corporate welfare, and promised to “prioritize real refugees”—Christians, in particular—a tax credit for home schooling, removal of tax on energy bills, protection of free speech on university campuses, a focus on the protection of religious freedom around the world, lower business taxes, and support for supply management.

Mr. Scheer’s leadership campaign platform website was taken down immediately after he won the contest, however.

Mr. Powers said that Mr. Scheer’s team hadn’t taken many policy stances since he took over as leader, but that would likely change in the coming months.

The federal Conservatives have their policy convention in Halifax from Aug. 23-25.

“He’s going to want to roll out his ideas and the party’s ideas, as he believes them to be, at the right time,” said Mr. Powers.

Getting it right is important; parties can run into trouble if they don’t have a clear policy direction, and members of caucus start “opining” about it publicly, he said.

The Conservative caucus is squarely behind Mr. Scheer, said Conservative MP Kent (Thornhill, Ont.), who characterized the negative columns about Mr. Scheer’s leadership as “advice from people who are not members of the Conservative Party or supporters of the Conservative Party.”

Between now and the August policy convention, the Conservatives will focus on taxes, the economy, the spring budget, and take aim at the government over deficit spending, an “unproductive legislative schedule,” broken promises, flaws in legislation, ethical lapses and poor judgement, said Mr. Kent.

As for the gap in the polls? “Poles are for dogs,” said Mr. Kent, echoing former Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker’s comparison of opinion polls to the treatment man’s best friend gives to lampposts and other upright objects.

Mr. Scheer will continue to try to build his profile by travelling across the country, said Mr. Kent. New NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is taking the same approach, and Mr. Trudeau undertook his own cross-country tour before stopping in London for a cabinet retreat last week.

Mr. Scheer, who personally holds some socially conservative beliefs—he is religious and personally against abortion and same-sex marriage—will have to define himself for many voters while his opponents try to pin him as a “fuddy-duddy stuck in the ‘50s,” said Mr. Powers.

“Don’t put up with intolerance, don’t allow people who look to change or step back into a different era of the social fabric of Canada to have the opportunity to do that,” said Mr. Powers. “Allow people to speak but…be clear—and I think he’s tried to—you’re not revisiting gay marriage. You’re not revisiting the abortion debate.”

Mr. Scheer has previously vowed not to reopen a debate on either subject. He also left a strongly socially-conservative Conservative MP and former leadership candidate, Brad Trost (Saskatoon-University, Sask.), out of his shadow cabinet, and did the same with Conservative MP Kellie Leitch (Simcoe-Grey, Ont.), who ran for the leadership on a platform that included a pledge to bring in a “Canadian values” test for immigrants.  

Mr. Scheer’s office declined to comment on Mr. Nanos’ comments and the negative opinion columns.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said that Andrew Scheer had left former Conservative Party leadership candidate Pierre Lemieux out of his roster of caucus critics. In fact, Mr. Lemieux is not a Member of Parliament and not in the Conservative caucus.  



Nanos Weekly Tracking: ending Jan. 5, 2018

Ballot: The latest Nanos federal ballot tracking has the Liberals at 40.9% support, followed by the Conservatives at 30.7 %, the NDP at 19.5%, the BQ at 3.7% and the Greens at 4.8%.

Accessible voters: Asked whether they would consider voting for each of the federal parties, 57.3% of Canadians say they would consider voting Liberal while 45.8% would consider voting Conservative. Four in 10 Canadians (42.2%) would consider voting NDP while 24.0% and 28.7% of Canadians would consider voting for the BQ and Green parties respectively.

Preferred Prime Minister: Nanos tracking has Justin Trudeau as the preferred choice as PM at 45.6% of Canadians followed by Andrew Scheer (20.3%), Jagmeet Singh (9.0%) and Elizabeth May (4.1%). Twenty per cent of Canadians were unsure who they preferred.

Qualities of a Good Political Leader: Two in three Canadians (65.6%) believe Trudeau has the qualities of a good political leader while 37.5 per cent believe Scheer has the qualities of a good political leader. Four in ten Canadians (39.5%) say Jagmeet Singh has the qualities of a good political leader, while 37.9 per cent believe the same about May. One in four (27.7%) said Martine Ouellet has the qualities of a good political leader (QC only).

Nanos Party Power Index: The Nanos Index, which is a composite of a series of measures including ballot and leadership impressions, has the Liberals with 62.8 points, the Conservatives 49.9 points, the NDP 46.8 points, the Greens 34.4 points and the BQ 25.9 points (QC only). The weekly tracking figures are based on a four-week rolling sample comprised of 1,000 interviews. To update the tracking a new week of 250 interviews is added and the oldest week dropped. The margin of error for a survey of 1,000 respondents is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

More in News

What happens if an MP’s found guilty of sexual harassment? No one’s saying

News|By Abbas Rana
All the federal political parties say they take sexual harassment “seriously,” but none will say what disciplinary action they would take against an MP found guilty of it. “We take sexual harassment allegations very seriously,…

NDP reviewing past, present harassment processes amid Stoffer, Weir allegations

The NDP isn’t currently investigating the specific harassment allegations against former NDP MP Peter Stoffer, but it says it's looking into how such complaints were, are now and will be handled, something strategist Robin Sears…

Feds’ sweeping, new environmental assessment bill keeps power in ministers’ hands, say observers

The government’s new Impact Assessment Act includes hundreds of pages detailing changes to the environmental assessment process in Canada, but keeps ultimate power over approving natural resource projects in the hands of the federal environment…

Patrick Brown gaining support since re-emerging to challenge sexual harassment allegations, says adviser, though Conservative MPs largely quiet

Patrick Brown, who in a dramatic move re-entered the Ontario leadership late Friday afternoon, is receiving strong support from all corners of the political world since publicly re-emerging to challenge the sexual harassment allegations that…

Some Liberal MPs frustrated with leadership for not sharing anti-abortion political strategy on Canada Summer Jobs program

Some Liberal MPs say they're frustrated the party leadership did not share the political strategy with the caucus on why the government was so adamant on keeping the new controversial reproductive rights clause in the…

NDP elects former Hill staffer Vick as new party president

NDP members elected a new party president on the last day of the party’s 2018 policy convention, with former Hill staffer Mathieu Vick being elevated to the role after garnering roughly 83 per cent of…

NDP delegates protest ‘watered down’ Palestine policy

In the waning hours of the NDP policy convention’s second day dozens of delegates stood in silence with hands raised holding posters proclaiming “Free Palestine” as they protested what some called a “watered down” resolution…

Galvanizing members, regaining momentum key for NDP at convention to be in fighting shape for 2019: strategists

With more than 1,800 New Democrats gathered in Ottawa to debate and help shape future party policies, NDP strategist and former national director Karl Bélanger says a top priority this weekend is to “galvanize” members…

NDP ‘shaken’ by harassment allegations, promises to root out problems in own ranks

The NDP's approach to anti-harassment was the first policy to earn mention at its convention in Ottawa on Friday—despite not being slated on the floor—with outgoing president Marit Stiles apologizing to party members who had…


We’re offering 15% off a year-long subscription to the hill times online content.