Andrew Scheer is never going to be prime minister of Canada.
And his Conservative party is never going to be closer to power than it is today – a strong opposition in a minority Parliament – until it recognizes that the country is changing. A political party that cannot adapt to change faces a bleak future.
The Conservative caucus will be facing that future when the 121 MPs and 29 senators assemble in Ottawa on Wednesday for the first time since the election. The meeting will give the caucus, if it wishes, an opportunity to dump Andrew Scheer and replace him with an interim leader until the party as a whole elects a permanent replacement.
That’s not going to happen, even though more than a few caucus members share the opinion of former cabinet minister and potential leadership candidate Peter MacKay – who also has the dubious distinction of being the last leader of the defunct federal Progressive Conservative party – that Scheer and his brains trust missed an easy shot on an empty net in the Oct. 21 election.
It’s not going happen at caucus on Wednesday, because most Conservatives are not ready to wield the axe. They are still trying to figure out how they managed to miss the empty net, and they are still blinded by the fact that, although they lost the seat count, they won the popular vote. They managed that by collecting vastly more votes than they needed in Alberta and Saskatchewan and not nearly enough where they needed them most – in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, urban and suburban Ontario and the lower mainland of British Columbia.
It’s also not going to happen on Wednesday, because there will be another, better opportunity at the Conservative national convention in April, when the whole party will get a chance to vote confidence, or lack of it, in the leader.
Changing the leadership will be important, but it matters less than the changes the party must impose on itself. The obvious starting point is climate change. The party still has its head in the sand, ignoring reality, science and public opinion. It was revealing that two-thirds of Canadians’ votes on Oct. 21 went to parties that had global warming at or near the top of their priorities.
The Conservatives cannot succeed until they come to terms with demographic reality. The electorate is becoming younger, better educated and more urban every time out, while the Conservatives core supporters continue to be older, less educated and rural or small town.
This downward (for the Tories) trend was dramatically illustrated by polling analyst Philippe J. Fournier in Maclean’s on Oct. 27. Using Statistics Canada data, Fournier examined the vote in the 60 Canadian electoral districts that have the highest population densities (the very highest being in Toronto Centre).
The Conservatives didn’t take a single one of those 60 seats. (The Liberals won 50, the NDP eight and one each went to the Bloc Québécois and independent Jody Wilson-Raybould in Vancouver.) One thing is certain. The trend to the cities will only increase. The Conservatives can only fall farther and farther behind unless they change.
A change of leadership is both essential and inevitable. The party will undoubtedly blame the cadre of right-wingers advising Scheer for the ugly, ineffective campaign, but Scheer made matters worse by his fumbling and fudging of such revealing social-values issues as abortion and same-sex marriage. These were among the issues that were, in the descriptive language of Peter MacKay, “hung around Andrew Scheer’s neck like a stinking albatross.”
When all is said and done, Scheer simply doesn’t come across a potential pe minister. A decent fellow, quite ordinary and a bit tedious, but not a leader of a modern nation. He doesn’t have what politicians call “royal jelly.”
Or as my former Globe and Mail colleague Michael Harris, now a freelancer, put it the other day in a column about the Scheer campaign, “He didn’t even have Aunt Mary’s marmalade.”
Good line. Wish I’d written it myself.