Andrew Scheer's Conservative leadership plans: moving beyond 'debate club'
Jill Scheer looks on as her husband, Conservative MP Andrew Scheer, responds to a question after announcing he will run for the party leadership on Sept. 28, 2016 in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Adrian Wyld)
Published Tuesday, January 10, 2017 7:00AM EST
Around Parliament Hill, Andrew Scheer is not exactly known as a rebel. The tall, bookish former Speaker has a permanently earnest expression and blushes easily, reddening when queried about his youthful exploits. So it might surprise people to hear it wasn't unusual for him to skip school.
Then again, he was skipping gym class to go to the Hill and watch question period.
"That is a true story. I did come here often," Scheer admits sheepishly during an interview in his Centre Block office.
It was only seven or eight years later that Scheer was one of the MPs participating in question period. And now, two decades after he was evading gym class, the Conservative MP for Regina-Qu'Appelle is one of 13 candidates running to lead his party as it finds its feet without long-time leader and former prime minister Stephen Harper at the helm.
It would be the ultimate job for the former high school politics nerd - who, incidentally, swears he isn't a nerd, and once tried to explain that using a Venn diagram.
Andrew Scheer at a glance
- Age: 37
- Birthplace: Ottawa
- Relationship status: Married with five children
- Previous career: Insurance broker
- Education: BA in history, University of Ottawa
- Book on his nightstand: Rubicon: the last years of the Roman republic (by Tom Holland)
"I'm not terribly science-y," he says. "I couldn't tell you what's the binomial equation or how many atoms in a mole."
"I have a very inquisitive mind and I like to know. Like if somebody uses a term and I don't understand, I always look it up."
Despite that, Scheer raised eyebrows during one of the leadership debates when he seemed to misunderstand the term carbon pricing, suggesting the Liberals preferred it to the term carbon tax to mask the reality of a new tax. In fact, carbon pricing refers more broadly to cap and trade programs and carbon taxes. Trudeau says all provinces and territories must have carbon pricing by 2018 or the federal government will impose a carbon tax.
"It's not just a price. It's not just something that companies can get together and agree on a target and then pass that cost along to consumers," Scheer said.
"His ultimate threat is that he will impose, set and collect a tax. I don't call that a price."
Not a 'debating club'
The number of candidates makes it hard for any of them to stand out. It's led some hopefuls to seek the spotlight by raising controversial issues. Quebec MP Steven Blaney, for example, chose to make the niqab the subject of his first policy announcement (he doesn't want them at citizenship swearing-in ceremonies, in polling stations or on federal workers). Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost says he would re-open the debate on gay marriage, which has been legal in various provinces since 2003 and across the country since 2005. And Ontario MP Kellie Leitch proposed screening visitors and immigrants for Canadian values before admitting them to Canada, and has adopted U.S. president-elect Donald Trump's abrupt Twitter style.
Scheer is blunt about those who want the candidates to court controversy in their leadership campaigns.
"We don't just want to be a debating club. I'm not running to be leader of the opposition. I'm running to be prime minister of Canada," he said.
"I didn't get doors slammed in my face in the last election because people were upset with our balanced budget or fists shaking at me because, 'how dare you bring in a tax-free savings account?' It wasn't our [economic] policies [that cost the election]."
Scheer won his first election in June, 2004. It was one month after his 25th birthday, but it was far from his first political experience. Scheer moved to Regina in 2003 with his future wife, Jill, after doing his undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa. He had already worked in correspondence and communications for Harper, then the opposition leader, as well as for former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day (the Alliance was one of the two parties that merged to form the Conservative Party).
Once in Regina, Scheer kept himself involved in politics, campaigning for a Saskatchewan Party candidate.
"When I moved to Saskatchewan in 2003, all the traffic was going the other way. The NDP had been in power for 13 years, there was really a sense of stagnation in the economy," he said.
"There was a sense that the Sask. Party was going to come in, but we lost that election. And it taught me a lot of lessons about why we lost and how when voters are ready for a change, you have to realize what it is that they're looking for and offer that in a way that connects with them."
Not making 'impractical' promises
Scheer didn't confine himself to provincial politics in Regina. He also campaigned in favour of the Progressive Conservative-Alliance merger and went on to campaign for Harper in Harper's successful leadership bid.
The former prime minister's influence on Scheer seems clear as he walks the tightrope between his values and the pitched debates over social issues. While Scheer is a practicing Catholic who has voted against gay marriage and in favour of restrictions on abortion, he vows he would focus on the issues that unite conservatives rather than divide them. It's an attitude reminiscent of Harper's pragmatic refusal to touch social issues during most of his time in office, perhaps because Scheer spent so many years watching him in action.
Despite that pledge, Scheer says he isn't thinking about whether he risks losing votes to the candidates who promise to carry the social conservative flag into the next election.
"I'm running my campaign based on what I believe in, what I think is best for the party.... I want to be very honest with members about what I can offer, and I don't want to run in a leadership campaign promising things that I know are unachievable or would be very impractical to try to introduce."
Promising measures that non-Conservatives can't support would cost the party the next election, he says. In order to win, the Conservatives have to keep their existing voters and "reach a broader audience of Canadians."
With that in mind, Scheer says he's running his whole campaign with a view to being able to defend his policies and tone to a general Canadian audience in the next federal election, set for 2019.
Is that a reference to candidates, like Leitch, who many Conservatives fear are narrowing the party's appeal?
"I won't comment on other candidates. I'm just telling you what I believe is important," he said.
Candidate at a glance
- MP since 2004 and House Speaker from 2011 to 2015
- Slogan is 'Real Conservative. Real Leader'
- Opposed to carbon tax
- Has released little policy, but calls himself tough-on-crime and opposes a bill to make it easier to open safe-injection sites.
- Supports Bill S-226, known as the Sergei Magnitsky law, to sanction corrupt Russian officials
- Opposes Canadian funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the Palestinian Territories
CTVNews.ca is profiling candidates for the Conservative Party leadership. For more on who’s running, see our list.