Who is Andrew Scheer?
Even staunch Conservatives have been asking the question since Scheer won the party leadership two years ago.
The basics: age, 40; married, five children; MP for Regina-Qu’Appelle since 2004; previous position, speaker of the House of Commons, 2011-2017; job experience before politics, almost none.
Scheer remains a largely blank canvass. What does he believe in? What does he stand for politically beyond the conventional conservatism he espouses? Is he strong enough to hold together a fractious party? Is he, as he insists, his own man? Lastly, prospective voters might like to know – what, if anything, does he do for fun?
He has been travelling the land in recent weeks delivering a portfolio of earnest policy speeches on subjects from foreign policy to pipelines and immigration to federal-provincial relations, with his most nettlesome one, climate change, to come in the next few days.
He clearly grasps the issues. He is not shy about declaring what he sees as the Liberals’ failures and inadequacies, but he does not disclose any fresh thinking. If the Conservatives have developed a better mousetrap, he is too cautious to reveal it.
Although Saskatchewan has produced more than its share of fiery leaders – including John Diefenbaker, Tommy Douglas, Ross Thatcher and Jimmy Gardiner – Scheer does not do passionate politics. Even when he tries to convey the anger he must feel at times, he comes across more as quizzical than infuriated, more measured than outraged.
“Bland” is a word often used to describe him. Bland worked very well for Bill Davis when he was the Tory premier of Ontario. It doesn’t work at all well for Scheer when he is trying to unseat a Liberal prime minister who is anything but bland.
But is bland the right description? I was struck by an online opinion column by the CBC’s Robyn Urback a few days ago in which she alluded to the 2015 election and argued: “Stephen Harper's challenge was that he came off as too authoritarian, too controlling. Scheer's is the opposite: he's mild, flaccid. He'll demand the prime minister resign — and then demand again. And wait — is that a smile?”
Flaccid? A bit harsh, but not far off the mark.
Scheer suffers when set next to two allies whose support he was counting on to help propel him to victory on Oct. 21 – Doug Ford, Ontario’s larger-than-life premier, and Jason Kenney, the high-octane political hustler and premier of Alberta.
The TV commercial produced by the anti-Scheer lobby, Engage Canada, that depicts the federal leader as Ford’s bobblehead is unfair to Scheer, but it does capture a sentiment that canvassers are picking up in vote-rich Ontario. And while Kenney’s support can only help in Alberta, where Scheer already has more support than he needs, it may hurt in the battleground ridings of southern Ontario where flexing Alberta’s political muscle does not play so well.
Like Ford, Kenney overshadows his federal leader. Watching the campaign unfold, veteran Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thompson offered this observation last week: “Even though Andrew Scheer might be the official head of the federal Conservative party, you get the impression Kenney is the unofficial leader of the federal conservative movement, someone who is more fluent, both linguistically and politically, than Scheer.”
In Quebec, L’Actualité, the French-language newsmagazine with a readership of one million, did Scheer no favour when it published an article by its political bureau chief, Alec Castonguay, who wrote that Scheer “rarely takes an important decision without consulting his former leader [Harper], as well as his former colleague Jason Kenney, now the premier of Alberta.”
Justin Trudeau naturally picked up on that in his stump speech.
If Scheer is tied to Harper and Kenney and if they are tied to Big Oil, is Scheer really his own man?
It’s a question that will be asked again and again.
And, being a curious sort, I’d still like to know what the fellow does for fun.