Before new Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer moves into Stornoway, the elegant Ottawa residence of the head of the Official Opposition, a few things have to change.
For one, Mr. Scheer recommends the National Capital Commission – which manages the government-owned property – have it kid-proofed for his expanded brood.
“We told the NCC to take anything of value and either put it very high up or in storage for a couple of years,” said Mr. Scheer, whose five children range in age from 1 1/2 to 12 years old. “I hope they have Scotchgard in the carpets.”
It’s the first indication of the new reality for the Conservative Party – and for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, too.
Young, family oriented and friendly, Mr. Scheer was the surprise winner in his party’s leadership event on the weekend, beating out front-runner Maxime Bernier in 13 rounds by a margin of 51 per cent to 49 per cent.
In the end, the well-liked 38-year-old was seen as the best choice to unite the party in all its factions – especially social Conservatives, who helped propel him to power.
Now, Mr. Trudeau, who is 45 with three kids, is facing his first permanent foe in the run-up to the 2019 election.
“I think he’s a perfect foil to Justin Trudeau. He’s young, yet experienced. He has a great, positive image. Photogenic. Yet also has a lot of substance,” Conservative Senator Denise Batters said.
But for Mr. Scheer, the similarities are sparse.
“The shirt is staying on all the time,” he joked, after he landed at the Ottawa airport on Sunday. “Look, one of the contrasts between the Prime Minister and myself is that we’re a party of substance. It’s not just flash and sizzle. We have a lot of great policies to put forward and the onus is on me as leader to make the connection.”
Mr. Scheer acknowledged he has work to do to make himself known to Canadians. In a Nanos Research survey conducted for The Globe and Mail, only 16.6 per cent of respondents said a Scheer-run party would make them more likely to vote Conservative, compared with 29.4 per cent for Mr. Bernier.
“Yes, we have a huge job at hand, I’m under no illusion about the amount of hard work it’s going to take, but there are a lot of reasons for optimism,” he said.
When asked who will be in his shadow cabinet, Mr. Scheer said it doesn’t matter who people supported in the race. “It’s making sure we have the best people in the best positions,” he said.
Mr. Scheer, who grew up in Ottawa but has represented Regina for five terms, has already been in politics for 13 years, with a short stint in the insurance business before he was elected at the age of 25. He never made it into cabinet but was selected by his peers – over the course of several ballots – to serve as the Speaker of the House of Commons in 2011. He earned credibility from social-Conservative backbenchers who were fighting Stephen Harper’s PMO to speak about right-to-life issues in the Commons.
Mr. Scheer himself is anti-abortion, but he has repeatedly said his government wouldn’t reopen the debate.
At a news conference after his victory, Mr. Scheer said he does not feel beholden to social conservatives or anyone else who contributed to his victory. He said he believes in the right of MPs to speak about all issues that are dear to them, including abortion.
Still, he said as leader, he will encourage his caucus members to table bills that unite rather than divide the party.
“Every kind of Conservative needs to have a home in our party and feel welcomed. Every kind of Conservative played an important role in this leadership race,” Mr. Scheer said.
The two social Conservatives in the race, Pierre Lemieux and Brad Trost, exceeded expectations, although they only represented about 15 per cent of the available points in the race. Mr. Trost especially was popular with the Chinese community, both campaigns said, and his support grew with memberships sold by churches and anti-abortion groups.
In Markham-Thornhill north of Toronto, which has a large Chinese population, Mr. Trost led on the first ballot with 30.48 per cent, followed by Mr. Scheer at 29.6 per cent. When Mr. Trost dropped off after the 11th ballot, Mr. Scheer’s support rose in the riding to 56.23 per cent.
Mr. Trost agreed that his supporters gave a major push to Mr. Scheer and helped to propel him to victory. Asked what message this sent to Mr. Scheer and the party, Mr. Trost told The Globe and Mail: “You need to listen to my voters.”
The Campaign Life Coalition said the results showcased the political strength of “pro-life and pro-family voters,” although the group withheld its endorsement of Mr. Scheer before the race.
Mr. Scheer’s campaign focused on sweeping pledges such as ending corporate welfare and balancing the budget in two years, but mostly incremental policies such as tax cuts for parents whose children are home-schooled or attend independent schools, withholding federal grants for universities that he says curb free speech, and scrapping the GST and HST from home heating and electricity.
On Monday, Mr. Scheer will hold his first caucus meeting as leader – part of which will be open to the media, in order to show a united front after a race that was nearly split down the middle.
In the lead-up to the vote, the Liberals primarily focused their attacks on Mr. Bernier, who opposed the price-fixing supply management system for dairy and poultry, and wanted to curb the federal government’s role in health care.
On Sunday, in a subtle jab to Mr. Scheer’s social-conservative roots, the Liberal Party released a video that shows Mr. Trudeau at campaign rallies and marching in Pride parades. “Fear makes us weak, not strong,” he says in the video.
Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Scheer spoke by phone on Sunday. They discussed “making Parliament work for Canadians and the important relationship with the United States,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The two will also meet in person “in the coming weeks.”
Mr. Scheer will be in Question Period on Monday, but will have to wait until Mr. Trudeau returns from Europe later this week to face him in the Commons as Conservative Leader for the first time.
LAURA STONE AND DANIEL LEBLANC
TORONTO — The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, May 28, 2017 8:34PM EDT
Last updated Monday, May 29, 2017 1:10AM EDT
John Ibbitson: Scheer has the makings of a more genial Harper (The Globe and Mail)