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Scheer says caucus united after Conservative MPs decide against leadership vote
OTTAWA – Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says his caucus is united and ready to focus on holding the Liberals to account after dodging what could have become his first post-election leadership test inside Wednesday’s Conservative caucus meeting.
“Our team is united, experienced, and focused on the job that we were elected to do,” Scheer said, backed by a fraction of his caucus.
Over the seven hours that the meeting spanned, Scheer spoke directly to, and heard directly from, Tory MPs and senators who ultimately decided against voting to enact rules that would have allowed them to oust him as party leader.
“We had a frank discussion about the last election campaign,” Scheer said. “Much more was expected and nobody is more disappointed in the results then me, and nobody is more eager to get it right the next time.”
While Scheer has avoided his leadership being tested for now, because of the election loss, a leadership review will still to occur at a delegated party convention in Toronto in April.
In an interview on CTV’s Power Play, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said it was the “right decision” to wait until the spring review for a decision on Scheer’s leadership future because in that scenario the party membership’s voices will be better represented and heard than if the caucus had made the call.
“I’m really proud of our caucus for recognizing the rights of our membership,” she said.
The vote on whether to enact the leadership review mechanism was “not close,” according to one Conservative source.
On their way to Wednesday’s meeting, returning and newly-elected Conservative MPs expressed their support for Scheer and spoke against seizing the option to trigger a leadership vote within their caucus without input from the party’s grassroots. They also said that they hoped the meeting would include a “full airing” of what worked and what didn’t in the party’s 2019 campaign.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday evening Scheer said that he heard from his caucus that his communication needs to be stronger on issues like climate change and his stance on same-sex marriage but on neither issue did he indicate a change in position is coming.
Scheer said under his leadership he will continue to oppose a carbon tax, and on same-sex marriage he said that he believes that every person has “inherent value.”
In a bid to further rally support behind him, Scheer also said that Conservatives “always lose” when they are divided, and spelled out the four priority issues that he says Trudeau needs to convene parliament promptly to deal with: keeping Canada united, “restoring” ethics and accountability to Ottawa, helping Canadians get ahead, and getting the energy sector back to work.
Caucus votes on Reform Act
In Wednesday’s meeting the caucus voted to determine whether it wanted to enable the caucus’s ability to remove an MP or select a caucus chair, remove a party leader, or elect an interim leader.
The Conservatives voted against empowering caucus in relation to the two leadership questions but did hold a vote to elect their new caucus chair, and will have power in relation to removing a member from caucus. The party decided to support the same two of the four aspects of the Act at the beginning of the last parliament.
The new caucus chair is Conservative MP Tom Kmiec, who cited caucus confidentiality when asked what the tone and mood was like inside the room.
The option to trigger a leadership ouster and these other powers was made possible thanks to Conservative MP Michael Chong’s contentious legislative initiative in 2015, aimed at empowering caucuses.
Called the Reform Act, it requires that these votes occur at the very first caucus meeting for each party.
It would have taken just 20 per cent of the caucus to sign on in agreement of a leadership review. The actual secret ballot vote would have required a majority to vote to replace the leader.
MPs wanted ‘full airing’
Also to come out of the meeting: former Conservative minister John Baird has been picked to lead the postmortem into what went wrong for the Conservatives this election.
Scheer said he would like Baird to report back on his findings as soon as possible, given that the next election could come at any time given the relative instability of minority parliaments. He acknowledged that he wanted to do better in key areas like Ontario and Quebec, and will be looking to see in the report how decisions were made based on the information they had, and where the party may be best to put people and resources next time.
On their way in to Wednesday’s meeting several caucus members spoke about the intention to have a “full airing” of the 2019 Conservative campaign to hear “what worked well for members and what didn’t work so well,” as Conservative MP Michael Barrett put it.
MPs said that Scheer has already taken steps to make improvements and listen to his team.
“During the campaign at the doors a lot of my constituents expressed concerns about the leader. They continue to express concern in communication with my office and so I’m glad to see that he’s said he’s going to go do a listening tour across the country and we’ll see what happens,” said Conservative MP Ron Liepert.
The Conservative caucus was expected to offer varied perspectives on what the party needs to do to boost its electability and deliver a strong presence as the Official Opposition in the new Liberal minority parliament.
“There were a number of issues that came up, some of the ways in which they were addressed may not have been the optimal way,” said defeated Conservative MP and deputy leader Lisa Raitt.
Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen said she thinks their issue was largely one of communication, but that’s something that can be improved under Scheer’s leadership. She spoke against the idea of caucus deciding Scheer’s fate today.
“I believe the grassroots members should decide on the future of a leader,” Bergen said.
“We went in wanting to win, expecting to win, and we’re not satisfied with the silver medal, so every time that happens you take a look at the entire operation to look at where you can get better,” said Conservative whip Mark Strahl.
According to The Canadian Press, Scheer held a casual gathering with MPs at Stornoway, his official residence on Tuesday night in advance of today’s high-stakes sit-down.
Scheer’s leadership questioned
While the party elected 121 MPs to the House of Commons, Scheer has faced outspoken criticism from within his party on various aspects of the campaign in the weeks that have passed since election day.
From questioning the data-driven internal decision-making lead by his campaign manager Hamish Marshall, to Scheer’s position on what the majority of Canadians view as settled social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, the knives appear to be out for the leader who narrowly took the helm of the party in 2017.
Marshall was on Parliament Hill on Wednesday but did not stop to take media questions upon his arrival.
Last week, Scheer spent a few days huddled with senior members of caucus to plot their Official Opposition strategy for the new parliament and assess the lay of the land heading into today’s meeting.
Strahl was one of the senior members in the meeting. He told reporters on Wednesday that Scheer “absolutely” has the confidence of caucus but that he doesn’t think Scheer has to change who he is in order to win.
Stephen Harper’s former director of communications said on CTV’s Question Period that Scheer’s position on same-sex marriage “could be fatal” to his future as leader because not supporting same-sex marriage is “viewed increasingly as bigotry.”
On her way to Wednesday’s meeting, Rempel said she thinks the party can, and should do more to be a voice for the LGBTQ community, beyond the “symbolism” she said that the Liberals have offered. Asked whether she thinks that’s possible under Scheer’s leadership, she said she went into the meeting looking to find that out.
When asked to clarify what his personal position is Scheer said: “My personal opinion is that I respect the rights of every single Canadian and my personal commitment to Canadians is to always fight for the rights of all Canadians including LGBTQ Canadians.”
Last week, one-time Conservative cabinet minister and rumoured potential leadership contender Peter MacKay compared Scheer’s 2019 election loss to a scandal-plagued Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net,” and said that Scheer’s socially conservative personal views hurt their chances to pick up key votes.
He then sought to clarify that he meant his comments on Scheer’s campaign “shortcomings” to be constructive and any rumours of him organizing a leadership challenge are “false.”
On election night, Scheer highlighted that the Liberals lost support in all regions, while the Conservatives were sending a bigger team to Ottawa that would position themselves as a government-in-waiting, framing the loss as the “first step” towards ousting Trudeau.
Wednesday night Scheer said the Conservatives will “finish the job” in the next election.