If politics were a rational enterprise, an opposition leader whose party won the popular vote and increased its seats in the Commons by 20 per cent, while reducing the governing party to a minority, would be hailed, if not as a hero, at least as a significant achiever.
But politics, like the stock market, is not a rational endeavour. Achievement is not judged by results alone. It is also measured against expectations.
The Conservatives expected to win the general election in October. The opinion polls raised lofty expectations. They were heightened by a mediocre Liberal campaign. With his opponents seemingly on the ropes, the Conservative leader talked confidently of electing a majority government. And the party rank and file, believing the hype, expected at very least a Tory minority.
When Andrew Scheer failed to deliver the expected results, he had to go. That was obvious on election night when the Conservatives fell short of making the inroads they expected, and needed, in urban Canada, Ontario and Quebec.
The party was the author of its own misfortune. It made a mistake two years ago, in May 2017, when it chose Scheer as its leader. Not that it had a wealth of choices. There were no stars among the 13 leadership candidates – no commanding figure, no one who projected the ability or the electoral appeal to lead the Conservatives to the promised land.
It took Scheer the maximum 13 ballots to emerge from this undistinguished field. He won, narrowly, because he was safe. He did not generate the antagonism that others did. He was agreeable and thoroughly ordinary. He would be – or so it seemed at the time – a satisfactory placeholder, destined to get the party through the anticipated re-election of Justin Trudeau in the 2019 election, then make way for a more dynamic individual to lead the Conservatives to victory in 2023.
What the Conservatives got back in 2017 was a social conservative and loyal follower of Stephen Harper, but one who, as leader, would nudge the party to the right of Harper. They might have expected that rightward drift. But they could not have anticipated how Scheer would hamstring himself and the party with his deeply held religious reservations about abortion, gay rights and same-sex marriage.
He found himself unable to articulate his views in a way that his followers could understand or voters could endorse.
The man couldn’t even bring himself to march in a gay pride parade, an event that has become accustomed routine for most 21st century Canadian politicians.
His successor will be taking over a party that under Scheer has wandered away from the political mainstream. The electorate is becoming younger, better educated, more urban, more tolerant of diversity and more progressive on social issues. The Conservative base is older, less highly educated, more rural/small town, and skeptical about climate change.
The party remains wedded to the petroleum economy at a time when two-thirds of voters, as revealed in the election results, recognize the climate crisis and accept the need for meaningful Canadian and international measures to combat global warming.
Thoughtful Conservatives know their party must change direction, even it means being seen as Liberal Lite. However, it will be hard to change as long as Scheer clings to his opposition leader role in Parliament. By announcing his resignation as national leader, he is halfway out the door. Someone should tell him to go the rest of the way – to the opposition backbench.
Speculation about potential successors is bootless at this stage. There is no shortage of names, familiar or tired. Peter MacKay is yesterday’s man. Rona Ambrose was not a stellar performer in Harper’s cabinets. Erin O’Toole would fit the bill if the party were looking for another boring white male.
There is always a chance – or danger – that the Conservatives, anxious to paper over their internal differences and insecurities, could find themselves electing another Andrew Scheer.
And wouldn’t that hand the keys of Parliament Hill to the Liberals?