John Ivison: ‘Authentic’ and unassuming Andrew Scheer is a Conservative for all seasons
Andrew Scheer is unapologetic about positioning himself as Stephen Harper with a happy face.
“I didn’t get chased off of anybody’s lawn (at the last election) because they didn’t like balanced budgets. I didn’t get doors slammed in my face because they couldn’t stand the tax-free savings account. Time and time again, I heard ‘I like you and what you’ve done. I like your policies. But I just can’t vote for you this time,’ ” says the 37-year-old Saskatchewan MP.
Scheer is one of perhaps five or six of the 14 Conservative leadership candidates with a realistic chance of victory – a poll released Tuesday puts him in third place, behind Kevin O’Leary and Maxime Bernier.
His unique selling proposition is that he alone can find the common ground to keep the party together and present a positive message at the next election that grows party support beyond its base.
He expresses a degree of frustration that other candidates have made headlines by saying “outlandish” things.
He appears to be one of the few looking beyond the May 27th leadership vote to the next election. “My approach to this entire campaign is not to say anything in the leadership race that I wouldn’t be proud to stand behind in 2019 in front of a bunch of mainstreet voters who aren’t always going to vote Conservative,” he said.
This consensual approach is not contrived – “it’s authentic, it’s who I am,” he said.
Andrew Scheer is confident that he will be in the final mix of Conservative leadership candidates on May 27. “By every metric we track, there are only three people who can win the race – Maxime Bernier, Kevin O’Leary and myself.”
Darren Brown for the National Post
His geniality explains why his colleagues voted him Speaker of the House in 2011 and why he boasts more support from MPs than any candidate, bar Erin O’Toole.
“This search for common ground is key to keeping the Conservative Party together – concentrating on the things we can agree on,” he said.
He is critical of Bernier for campaigning on the abolition of supply management of dairy and chicken products.
“If you have a leader who picks issues that divide caucus then yes, it threatens unity. A lot of MPs represent areas that support supply management. There’s a reason I have more Quebec caucus members in my campaign that Maxime Bernier,” he said.
Scheer is an Ottawa boy, born and bred. He moved west to marry and worked as an insurance broker for six months or so, before getting involved in Conservative politics. He was elected at the age of 25 and has been a professional politician ever since.
He was voted Speaker in 2011, the youngest in Canadian history, and oversaw the reform of Parliament’s security in the wake of the 2014 terror attack.
We’re dining in a restaurant in the city’s swank new Lansdowne development, gazing out at TD Place, the home of the Ottawa Redblacks, where he used to sell popcorn as a teenager.
Yet he represents a riding in Regina, Sask., and much of his policy platform presents him as someone who can empathize with the endeavours and diversions of the average Canadian – “I dropped a buck from 400m away using a friend’s .308 precision rifle,” he reveals on his website.
His efforts to repeal gun legislation is not a complete affectation – “It’s my experience. I didn’t go hunting just to have a story to tell. We have a country with a lot of diversity – rural communities who do go hunting and who do drive long distances to work. That’s the balance I bring to the race.”
This approach is appropriate for someone who loves the movie, A Man for All Seasons. Scheer sees himself as best placed to preserve the Conservative alliance that Harper built, focusing on the issues that bind them together and glossing over those that divide them.
The career politician is light on economic policy or an explanation of how he would balance the budget after just two years in office. But he makes the case that policies proposed in the leadership race are less important than the way they are presented. “What’s more important is how you bring together these great policies and get more Canadians to buy into them,” he said.
One policy to which there is a clear personal commitment is support for parents who send their kids to independent schools, where he proposes a tax deduction of $4,000 per child to cover tuition fees. Scheer has five children and those of school age go to the Regina Christian School. “It’s about rewarding parents for the sacrifices they’ve made. We have our kids at an independent school and the parents are not rich. They scrimp and save to pay tuition to get the best education.”
Where Scheer departs from Harper is the method of communicating beyond the party base.
“We can’t be motivated by anger or not paying higher taxes. Showing a genuine concern for people – that is how we get to a broader audience.
“I don’t like the fact Conservatives have that negative connotation – that we’re always against things, always ‘tackling’ something, ‘cracking down’ on something, or ‘getting tough’ on something else. We have to have something positive to say on the flipside. Ronald Reagan won almost every state in the union; Brad Wall flipped a province from NDP to small ‘c’ conservative by talking about unleashing the power of the private sector to create more prosperity. That’s the side of our policies we need a leader to speak about,” he said.
Scheer is confident that he will be in the final mix of candidates on May 27. “By every metric we track, there are only three people who can win the race – Maxime Bernier, Kevin O’Leary and myself,” he said.
He claims he is in a “very competitive” spot for number one choices and believes his strong support as a second and third choice will catapult him higher in subsequent ballots.
That’s progress. When the unassuming Scheer was taking soundings about a leadership bid, he admitted he hated talking about himself.
Now he can hardly be contained. “My pitch to members is that if you want a leader who you can trust; who can keep our caucus together; who will find the common ground; who can articulate a positive vision of what it means be Conservative; who will appeal to people who didn’t vote for us last time, then I’m your guy.”
It would be a small but positive surprise if the membership decides to back this Conservative for all seasons.