Andrew Scheer walks a tightrope as he builds his shadow cabinet -

Andrew Scheer walks a tightrope as he builds his shadow cabinet

Kellie Leitch and Brad Trost are shut out, Maxime Bernier is denied the finance portfolio—and just maybe, the world is unfolding as it should

Leader of the Official Opposition and Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Andrew Scheer, makes an announcement and holds a media availability at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Thursday, July 20, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Leader of the Official Opposition and Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Andrew Scheer, makes an announcement and holds a media availability at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Thursday, July 20, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Andrew Scheer’s selling proposition as leader of the Conservative Party seems to be that he can calm two groups of people who disliked Stephen Harper.

On one hand, there are swing voters who might have voted Conservative once or more in 2004, 2006, 2008 or 2011, but who had decided by 2015 that Harper was too angry, reclusive, or otherwise unacceptable as Conservative leader. These are the voters who, theoretically, could be recaptured if the Conservatives were to more diligently police their “tone.” People who will never vote Conservative surely don’t believe tone is enough, but believe me, the Harper Conservatives really used to work hard on tone, back when they were winning.

The other component of the expanded Scheer coalition is… not the same as the skittish “tone” voters. That’s the dyed-in-the-wool Conservative activists who found Harper disappointing because he too often seemed to be reining them in, holding them back, telling them to be less libertarian, less hawkish, less socially conservative than they wanted to be. For the sake of the broader coalition, you understand. This was the famous Harper incrementalism, about which a guy could write a whole book, theoretically. But to many conservative Conservatives, it chafed.

READ: Andrew Scheer, the Conservative Party’s folksy unifier

I guess Scheer expects he can woo both groups because he’s a complex guy: more good-humoured than Harper, but also more willing to let conservatives be conservative. The “shadow cabinet” the new Conservative leader released on Wednesday begins to put some meat on the bones of that offer. It suggests Scheer has begun to grapple with the complexity and difficulty of his job.

The big surprises:

• Maxime Bernier, who was ahead of Scheer on 12 of 13 ballots in May’s leadership election, is not the finance critic as he wanted to be.

• Pierre Poilievre, who rubs a lot of people the wrong way, is the finance critic.

• Two of Scheer’s leadership rivals, the identity-politics-obsessed Kellie Leitch and the Christian conservative standard-bearer Brad Trost, don’t have any critic assignment at all. Neither does Gerry Ritz, who was Harper’s agriculture minister for most of a decade.

Many of these choices are easy to explain. Some of the critic assignments are pretty smart. (I think people will notice Marilyn Gladu, the MP for my hometown of Sarnia, who becomes health critic where she’ll build on her growing reputation as a personable and diligent MP. And appointing Peter Kent as “shadow minister for ethics” may turn out to have been a masterstroke. Kent is so far proving much better cut out for opposition than he was for government.) Taken together, however, they suggest some of the pitfalls of attempting to appeal to both moderate voters and highly motivated partisans.

WATCH: Peter Kent takes the 60-Second Challenge

The demotions for Trost and Leitch will please Canadians who thought the Conservatives were drifting into right-wing, nativist territory. But between them, the two had 15% of Conservatives’ support on the first ballot of the leadership vote.

Maybe Scheer’s assumption is that Michelle Rempel, who remains the party’s immigration critic, can keep the party current among voters who worry about the influx of asylum-seekers, with less of Leitch’s awesome tone deafness. But 15% of the party is a lot of people to disappoint by snubbing their champions.

And for what? Putting Poilievre in Finance endangers a lot of the goodwill Scheer might have hoped to gain by ditching Trost and Leitch. I’m not going to lie to you, I’m fond of Poilievre, who’s way more thoughtful, erudite and well-read than his pointing-and-blaming Commons persona might indicate. But that persona has turned off a lot of voters, and if Poilievre wants to reinvent himself, it’ll take time to execute the pivot.

On to Bernier. Scheer owes him more than most recent party leaders have owed any rival. But it’s not clear how he could have satisfied Bernier. Making the hale Beauce MP finance critic was out of the question. The two men simply disagree on too much. Bernier’s against supply management; could he credibly defend it for a leader who supports it? Similar questions could be asked on taxation, on funding the CBC, and more. It would be way too easy for the Liberals to drive wedges between the two.

But on Twitter, where admittedly people go to grumble, there’s already grumbling among Bernier supporters who think their man has been snubbed.

Being a persuasive opposition leader isn’t the work of a day, it’s the work of months, and there’s every reason to suspect Scheer’s “shadow cabinet” will have days when it’s successful at boxing the Trudeau Liberals’ ears back. But it’s easy to imagine yourself as both nicer and more audacious than your predecessor; harder to deliver.



Andrew Scheer walks a tightrope as he builds his shadow cabinet

  1. “Similar questions could be asked on taxation, on funding the CBC,”

    Why would Scheer and Bernier disagree on funding for the CBC? Unless of course Bernier wants to continue funding the CBC which seem unlikely.

    Scheer has said that if he got into office he would defund CBC news,citing other, better sources…of course that was when the Rebel was his preferred go to media source.

  2. I think it’s a bad start when you have to do a high wire act, especially when your supposed to be the ring leader of the circus, sounds more like yeoman’s work to me..Sheer seems to be trying to be more of a juggler than a tightrope walker..Big tents can come with big headaches. If Sheer doesn’t show a bump, from showing his shadow cabinet this week, than he may end up as a rigger or roustabout of his own party, in his own big tent party. I see disaster coming, Mr. Trost didn’t sound like an MP who was going to sit in the nosebleed section for another four years, and look like a minion. If doesn’t get any bones fed to him, he may form an alliance within the party, with other members, because a lot of conservatives share Lietches and Trosts vision of the true conservative creed. This conservative party will not be a contender for the liberal government in 2019, maybe 2023, after they dump Sheer, and you can take that to the bank. my predictions have been pretty accurate, more accurate than most of the bloggers and talking heads that are always on these political talk shows…

    • I can tell a winner or looser, character, the minute they open their mouths. Just watch Sheer when he has to answer a difficult question, especially if he has to go on the offensive, he turns into a pretzel, and rambles on and on all over the place, he has a very thin skin, and if people can’t see that, than they need glasses…He hasn’t been tested, only by CBC’s Carol O,Neil, and boy did she ever twist his nickers in a knot.

      • Another prediction, Kathleen Wynn, will win the next election in Ontario, and you can take that one to the bank too.

  3. Scheer made some shrewd decisions with this shadow cabinet.

    Leitch and Trost absolutely needed to be sidelined.

    Giving Bernier a role, albeit smaller than he wanted, was also a very smart choice.

    Poilievre has a very well-deserved reputation for petulance. Maybe he gain grow up in the public eye. Justin is petulant and he’s prime minister.

  4. Appointing the execrable Pierre Poilievre to anything at all will cost Scheer and the CPC my vote in the next election.

  5. I was extremely happy with the Shadow,(whatever Scheer want’s them to be labelled), people named this week. Looks like another term for the Liberals unless some unforeseen fiasco occurs. BTW, Poilievre might be a buffoon and end up doing more harm than good but he pales in comparison to Michelle Rempel with regard to “turning off” the educated voter. Cheers to Scheer’s giving Justin another four years. Live and learn CPC.