Andrew Scheer has a real shot at becoming prime minister. The polls have his Conservatives in a statistical tie with Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, and the Liberal lead in seat projections seems to be shrinking daily.
At moment, a minority government of one or the other appears likely, but if change is in the wind, no pollster or pundit can predict how far the change may go. A close race could turn into a runaway.
How much do Canadians really know about Andrew Scheer? He has been national leader of his party since May 2017, yet he remains a largely unknown quantity, even among Conservatives. He is known for what he stands against – virtually everything Trudeau favours – but not for what he stands for himself.
If he is more than a quintessential opposition politician, what are his core principles? Setting aside campaign rhetoric, what does he, Andrew Scheer, believe in? Does he dream about what he could do for the country as prime minister? What might that dream be?
Is Scheer his own man? Or is he simply, as his detractors say, a front for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and the petroleum industry and an enabler for the party’s social conservatives who would love to roll back reforms introduced by the Liberals, dating back to Pierre Trudeau and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
Is it Scheer’s dream to recreate a Stephen Harper government in Ottawa? Earlier in his leadership, he tried to distance himself from the Harper legacy, but that gesture at separation has been abandoned during the campaign. His fiscal platform – featuring a miscellany of targeted tax credits for identifiable groups (hockey parents, for example) in contrast to the Liberals’ across-the-board tax reductions – is pure Harper. And the former prime minister has emerged from the wings to endorse and raise money for the Scheer campaign.
The Globe and Mail went to considerable lengths last week to discover the real Andrew Scheer with a front-page interview-cum-profile on Tuesday and on Saturday with a three-page spread on his life – by my measure, their combined length, not counting the large photos, came to 169 column inches (14 feet!) of copy. For the metrically inclined, 429 centimetres.
There were many interesting tidbits in those 429 centimetres. They are manna for political trivia buffs without offering much real sustenance to anyone who seeks to understand what makes Scheer tick.
One of the Globe pieces described him as “Everyman”; the other explored his struggle to reconcile his religious beliefs with his stated political decision that, if prime minister, he would not reopen debate on abortion or same-sex marriage.
We know he was born in Ottawa, raised in a middle-class family in a suburban town house, moved to Regina to finish university, married, stayed there, had five children, and was elected to Parliament. Except for a brief spell as a clerk in an insurance agency, he has been a politician all his adult life. He has never been a cabinet minister.
We do know a couple of other things. He is terrified of being associated with gay pride parades and climate change protests, high-tailing it out of town to avoid being seen in the vicinity of either, as he did on Friday, escaping from Montreal in the nick of time before the massive climate march took over the streets.
We also know that he is tenacious. He hung in for six ballots before he was elected speaker of the Commons in 2011 In 2017, he outlasted all opponents through 13 rounds of leadership balloting before emerging as the consensus choice to lead the Conservatives back to power.
It is possible he will succeed. Much will depend on how well he performs against Justin Trudeau in three televised leaders’ debates – on TVA in Quebec tomorrow, in the official English debate next Monday and the French debate three days later. As leaders before him have learned, it is hard to hide on a debate stage.