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Handling Conservative caucus Scheer’s ‘key battleground for party unity’: Pollster Lyle

By Abbas Rana      

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer will announce a shadow cabinet in the next ‘couple of months’, says Conservative MP Peter Kent

Conservative MP Andrew Scheer won the party leadership on Saturday, May 27, in Toronto, with a narrow win over Maxime Bernier on the 13th and final ballot. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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New Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is expected to wait until some time after the House has risen for the summer before announcing his shadow cabinet, and how he handles this and other caucus issues stand to be a major test of his ability to instil party unity.

“He’s approaching the transition as he should, very thoughtfully,” said Conservative MP Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.), who is currently the party’s foreign affairs critic. “There will be changes. We all expect changes, and we’ll respect those changes. I would expect it would be in the next couple of months.”

Mr. Kent, who supported Michael Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.) in the campaign, said all of Mr. Scheer’s (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) leadership rivals stand behind him because he won the contest fair and square.

Conservative MP Peter Kent. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

“That [shadow cabinet] will be a demonstration of his leadership,” Mr. Kent said.

“All that went before Saturday [May 27] night is merely prologue. … We are unanimously in support of our new leader and will go forward with our new leader.”

In the leadership campaign that concluded on May 27 in Toronto, Mr. Scheer received the second highest number of endorsements from his caucus colleagues after Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.). Mr. Scheer received the support of 24 Conservative MPs and eight Senators, while Mr. O’Toole was endorsed by 31 MPs and four Senators.

Of the 13 candidates that ran for the party’s top job, nine were incumbent MPs including Mr. Scheer, three former MPs, and one businessman. The incumbent MPs were Maxime Bernier (Beauce, Que.), Mr. Chong, Deepak Obhrai (Calgary Forest Lawn, Alta.), Kellie Leitch (Simcoe-Grey, Ont.), Lisa Raitt (Milton, Ont.), Mr. O’Toole (Durham, Ont.), Steven Blaney (Bellechasse-Les Etchemins-Lévis, Que.), and Brad Trost (Saskatoon-University, Sask.).

The three former MPs who ran for were Pierre Lemieux, Chris Alexander, and Andrew Saxton. The one businessman was Rick Peterson.

At the conclusion of every leadership campaign, rival candidates and winning candidates’ caucus endorsers vie for coveted shadow cabinet positions, or cabinet position if the party is or ends up in government. Caucus members who are not tapped for such jobs, or do not get the positions they want, can cause political headaches for new party leaders.

Pollster Greg Lyle of Innovative Research said even more important than the shadow cabinet for Mr. Scheer is keeping rank-and-file caucus members happy, which is a “key battleground for party unity.”

He said caucus members like to be included in important issues such as election readiness, outreach, and policy development, and they want their work to be valued. Mr. Lyle said Mr. Scheer is very well positioned to handle this task.

“Caucus is really the key battleground for party unity, and Scheer is very well set up [to handle that],” said Mr. Lyle.

“He starts in a very strong position because he was very well regarded by the existing caucus. For him, it’s the easiest job to bring caucus together.”

As for the accommodation of rival candidates in the shadow cabinet, Mr. Lyle said Mr. Scheer needs to think about what to do with leadership runner-up Mr. Bernier and third-place Mr. O’Toole. He said other candidates failed to receive a significant support from party membership in the leadership campaign, so they should not assume their automatic inclusion in the shadow cabinet, particularly with regard to important critic positions such as finance or foreign affairs.

Mr. Lyle acknowledged that social conservatives played an important role in Mr. Scheer’s win, but on the last ballot the final push came from Mr. O’Toole’s supporters.

“I don’t think it’s [shadow cabinet formation] going to be hard at all,” said Mr. Lyle. “Most of his colleagues that were in the race didn’t win all that many votes.”

Depending on how the new leader handles social conservative issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, it could open the Conservatives to attacks from the Liberals and the NDP.

“The question is: are the Tories going to put a social conservative agenda in their policy platform or not?” said Mr. Lyle.

Conservative MP Brad Trost ran for the Conservative Party leadership on a social conservative platform. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Mr. Trost, who along with Mr. Lemieux ran on a platform of social conservative issues, declined to say what expectations he has with the new leader.

“At this point, I’m going to say wait and see,” Mr. Trost said in an interview last week. “The guy has so much work to get done in the next few months. I’m not going to bother him about any issues. In the fall, when we come back, we’ll see how things go.”

Right after the conclusion of the leadership convention in Toronto, Mr. Trost told The Hill Times that social conservatives propelled Mr. Scheer to victory. If the new leader was “wise,” he will pay close attention to social conservatives issues, or else not expect their vote in 2019, Mr. Trost said at that time.

“If he doesn’t, well, they can stay home. They can vote for minor parties,” Mr. Trost said on the convention floor. “There are a lot of things that can be done.”

In a press conference in Toronto following the leadership election, Mr. Scheer did not offer a clear answer about his policies regarding social conservative issues. Mr. Scheer said he “believes in the right of individual members to have their say,” in response to a question on whether or not he would allow members to put forth bills on abortion.

He added he wouldn’t put himself in a “binary box,” and that he believed the role of the leader of the party was to find issues on which the party is united.

Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu supported Andrew Scheer in the leadership campaign. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia-Lambton, Ont.), who supported Mr. Scheer in the leadership campaign, said that MPs who believe in social conservative issues will be allowed to express their opinions, but added that she does not believe that the abortion or same-sex-marriage debate will be reopened.

“There’s a lot of ability for members to speak freely and I think that’s an improvement over the previous government,” Ms. Gladu said. “Andrew’s been clear he’s not going to go there.”

Mr. Kent predicted that MPs would be able to speak openly on issues of conscience, but not be allowed to table just any legislation.

“He’s been very clear that that debate will not be reopened,” Mr. Kent said.

“I’m anticipating not, because bringing legislation de facto means reopening the debate and he said the debate will not be allowed to be reopened.”

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski (Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan, Sask.), who supported Mr. Scheer in the leadership campaign, said his fellow Saskatchewan MP is well liked and respected by his caucus. He said Mr. Scheer is best placed to keep the party united.

Mr. Lukiwski added that Canadians who know the new party leader like him and those who don’t will like him as they get to know him better.

“Canadians like Mr. Scheer,” said Mr. Lukiwski. “The more they see him, the more they’re going to be attracted to him.”

arana@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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