Scheer is out. What happens next will change Canada forever. - Macleans.ca

Scheer is out. What happens next will change Canada forever.

Scott Gilmore: The next leader will either be someone who resonates with voters across the country or steers the party into the ditch

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Conservative MP's pay their respects to Scheer following the announcement he will step down as leader of the party, on Dec. 12, 2019 (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Andrew Scheer is out. And, I confess I am surprised. I am a firm believer in Paul Wells 1st rule of Canadian politics which states: “For any given situation, Canadian politics will tend toward the least exciting possible outcome.” So when I heard gossip this was coming I gave it my best world weary shrug and predicted nothing would happen. But, it turns out, the rumours of his demise were not exaggerated.

On one hand, it’s easy to understand why he chose to go. The CPC lost the election to possibly the weakest Liberal candidate since Michael Ignatieff decided to dabble in losing. The caucus was grumbling—some prominent members like Ed Fast even refused to sit in his shadow cabinet. Prominent conservatives like Doug Ford were quietly trying to pull the carpet out from under Scheer’s feet, while others like Stephen Harper’s former director of communications Kory Teneycke were openly campaigning for his ouster.

On the other hand, there were many reason to believe the Wells rule would apply. The CPC did earn the most votes in the election, more than Stephen Harper received in 2011. Scheer even added 26 seats to the caucus. You would expect the party to give him one more chance, especially given that a shaky minority government led by a shaken Prime Minister most likely means the next election will be sooner rather than later.

Regardless, Andrew Scheer is moving on and will likely enjoy a well-earned rest with his family over the holidays. The last several weeks must have been hell for him, and few people realize just how brutal, demoralizing and exhausting life in politics can be. I suspect the outgoing leader will wake up tomorrow feeling a quiet sense of relief.

The rest of the caucus, however, will spend the holidays rapidly assessing who might replace Scheer as leader, and then deciding whether they will join in, oppose or just keep their head down. Their decision will have a monumental impact on the course of this country.

There is a chronic conflict at the heart of modern conservatism that you can see across the western world. On one side you have ideologues who believe that the conservative movement should be “[standing] athwart history, yelling Stop!” as William F. Buckley described it. They want to slow down the changes that have transformed our society over the last 50 years, and even reverse them if possible.

For them, being conservative means defending certain social values like traditional marriage, the primacy of Christianity and protections for the unborn. They believe these ideas are so important, that they are willing to forgo other traditional conservative priorities like de-regulation or limited government in order to defend them.

Opposing them are people who believe the core principle of conservatism is the need to protect the rights of the individual. This means that the government should have no role in deciding who you can or cannot marry, how and where you worship, and what you put in to your body.

In the United States right now, there is a growing conflict within the Republican party that perfectly illustrates this divide. A number of GOP legislators are pushing the Trump administration to launch a “war on porn”—to increase regulations on what you can film and distribute in order to prevent the corruption of youth. Other Republicans think this is overreach and it’s absurd for the government to play any role in deciding what you want to watch in the privacy of your own home.

A similar divide exists among Canadians who believe themselves to be “conservative”. I witnessed this first hand  two years ago when I went across the country hosting large public dinners for members of the CPC who were worried Andrew Scheer would drive the party into the ditch.

These were people who believed in the importance of a free market, and could not understand why the party was opposed to the only market friendly response to climate change (or why the party was even loath to admit the climate was changing). Others valued personal liberty, and couldn’t believe the party would even have an opinion about their gay daughter, let alone want to prevent her from marrying. And there were a lot of them. To this day I get weekly emails from people who attended those dinners bemoaning where the party has gone.

Now, with Scheer out, the party has a chance to consider what type of party they want to be. If they pick a social conservative (which is most likely when you consider how strong that contingent is—and that this faction was apparently driving the dissatisfaction with Scheer) then they will keep pulling their steering wheel to the right, off the road, over the curb, and into the ditch.

Because, most Canadians don’t share these values. And, what’s more, young voters, who are replacing the more conservative older generations who are dying off, overwhelmingly don’t share these values. Canada is an increasingly open society, that believes in individual liberty, supports feminism, prioritizes climate action and doesn’t give a damn about porn. If the party is going to run against what the vast majority of Canadians now believe, then it is going to hand power to the rag-tag and meandering mess that is the Liberal Party.

Of course, the party could choose a leader who would resonate with voters across the country and across the political spectrum. Someone who believed in fighting climate change, was willing to march in a Pride Parade, and who welcomed immigrants. In the last race, only Michael Chong fit that description, and they relegated him to fourth place.

Perhaps the party will do better this time—the country needs a strong Conservative Party, one that the majority of Canadians can trust and support. Where this country goes over the next decade, and how it gets there will be primarily dictated by who the party chooses to replace Scheer. Let’s hope they choose well.

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