Lawrie McFarlane: Dumping Scheer, axing platform the Tories’ only choice

After running a lacklustre campaign, and failing to win an election many thought was there for the taking, it appears Conservative leader Andrew Scheer might not survive.

The first sign of trouble arrived when Tory Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais announced he is leaving his party’s caucus because of Scheer’s socially conservative views.

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Then, no doubt in hopes of stanching the bleeding, Scheer fired two of his most senior advisers. Chief of staff Marc-André Leclerc and communications director Brock Harrison are out.

It’s tempting to observe that no greater love hath a man for himself than to toss his friends under the bus.

Clearly, the vultures are gathering. But are they gathering in the right place?

Yes, the Tory leader is an uninspiring figure who failed to connect with the voters. He also holds a seat in Saskatchewan, making him the second Conservative leader in a row from Western Canada. That doesn’t poll well in Ontario or Quebec.

Yet I doubt this was the real problem. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had image problems of his own.

There are deeper waters here.

Where the Tories faltered was their inability to define what they stood for, in particular around the issue of climate change.

Understandable, perhaps. Many conservatives believe global warming is a hoax, ginned up by the scientific community in pursuit of grant money, and by left-wing voters comfortable with interventionist policies.

But none of this counts. Politics is about what matters to people, not what the facts might be.

And the politics of climate change are the equivalent of a minefield for the Tories. Support carbon taxes, and your fortress on the Prairies crumbles. Oppose them, and you get what just happened in central Canada. A shellacking.

The usual strategy for dealing with a no-win issue is to skate lightly over it, and focus on matters more central to your core beliefs. But what exactly are those?

Certainly opposition to deficit financing leads the pack. Before the election, Trudeau and the Liberals were projecting a deficit north of $20 billion a year for the foreseeable future.

It seems inevitable, if the Grits are to attract NDP support, that the actual figure will be closer to $30 billion and quite possibly more. There is a limit to public tolerance of this sort of thing, and the Tories will exploit it.

How about electoral reform? It appears political suicide for the Tories to embrace representation by population. Their holdings in Parliament would fall, while more Green and NDP MPs would be elected.

That probably consigns the party to indefinite opposition status, as the three left-leaning parties would continually outnumber them.

But consider this: A recent Angus Reid poll shows that there has been a major shift in public opinion, in favour of electoral reform.

Before the recent election, support nationally for rep by pop stood at just 47 per cent. Today it is 68 per cent.

As you would expect, enthusiasm is high among the Greens and NDP. But here is the stunner. Conservative voters now favour electoral reform by 69 per cent.

You can see what happened. Tories are frustrated that they won the popular vote, yet gained fewer seats than the Liberals.

The broader public dislikes the emergence of a minority government, and all the uncertainty that forebodes.

Whoever emerges as the future Conservative leader has the unenviable job of convincing supporters that electoral reform is fatal to their party.

And he or she must also explain to voters generally that if you don’t like minority governments, rep by pop is not the answer.

The solution? Scheer has to go, and a far more accomplished retail politician must be found to replace him. That’s the easy part.

Framing a platform that can actually win will be far more challenging.

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