Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer ran his party’s federal election campaign as a referendum on the performance of Justin Trudeau and the Liberals over the last four years.
Now the results are in: a minority government for Trudeau, a slightly larger caucus for the Conservatives — and new pressure on Scheer’s leadership.
Beyond a promise to voters to make life more affordable through tax cuts, Scheer said Canadians should back Conservatives in this election because Trudeau had lost the “moral authority to govern” after the SNC-Lavalin scandal and the ‘brownface’ photos surfaced. A substantial number of Canadians didn’t agree.
Scheer failed to substantially bolster his party’s standings in the House of Commons Monday. The Conservatives return to Parliament with roughly 20 more seats than former prime minister Stephen Harper won in 2015.
In once deep-blue ridings in places like Atlantic Canada and Ontario, Liberal candidates managed to fight off their Conservative challengers. Deputy party leader Lisa Raitt, a Conservative stalwart and a Red Tory, went down to defeat in the suburban Toronto riding of Milton.
The Conservative election strategy — sticking to tried-and-true Conservative policies like tax cuts while rejecting substantive climate action to motivate the dedicated Tory base — failed to sway enough independent-minded voters in Central Canada.
While Scheer did not cobble together enough seats to form a government, he did hold Trudeau to a minority.
Scheer was able to tap into the palpable anger in Western Canada — particularly in the Prairies, where the Liberal government has been accused of stifling the oil and gas sector with policies like the northern B.C. oil tanker ban and the controversial overhaul of the environmental assessment regime.
Conservative candidates toppled all Liberal MPs in Alberta and Saskatchewan, including long-time Liberal MP and cabinet minister Ralph Goodale. In Alberta, Conservative candidates secured an eye-popping 70 per cent of the vote. In Saskatchewan, Tories swept all the seats with more than 67 per cent of the vote.
But Scheer’s future as Conservative leader is now in doubt.
Under the Conservative Party constitution, if the party fails to form government — and if the leader has not yet formally signalled an intention to resign — then delegates can vote at the next party convention to hold a leadership race.
Of course, Scheer might resign before that leadership review vote is ever triggered.
While Trudeau’s campaign was beset by scandal, Scheer also faced questions about his resume and his political positions. Scheer appeared awkward when asked about social issues like gay marriage and abortion. There were also questions about his past as an insurance broker (he was never actually licensed to sell insurance) and his dual Canada-U.S. citizenship.
Scheer was first elected in his adopted hometown of Regina in 2004, beating long-time NDP MP Lorne Nystrom.
After years on the Conservative backbench in opposition and then in government, Scheer served as deputy speaker in the House of Commons before taking the big chair himself after the 2011 election.
Conservative party members were forced to pick a new leader after the electoral thumping in 2015. At the outset of that leadership race, Scheer struggled to stand out in the crowded field of 17 candidates who were vying to replace Stephen Harper.
With media attention focused on higher-profile candidates like Kellie Leitch, Kevin O’Leary and Maxime Bernier, Scheer quietly assembled a significant amount of “second choice” support among members.
He courted socially conservative voters — a not insignificant portion of the Conservative leadership voting base — but also more moderate elements of the party who feared Bernier’s strident libertarianism would be a turn-off for the general voting public. He narrowly beat Bernier by less than 2 points on the 13th and final ballot.
Scheer acknowledged early that his policy proposals were not all that different from those of his predecessor. He willingly embraced the “Stephen Harper with a smile” label, saying he would govern like Harper but with less of a stern image.
When he assumed the helm of his party, the Liberals were still flying high in the polls.
But Scheer scored some wins as an opposition leader, like a come-from-behind victory in a Quebec byelection. He capitalized on Liberal scandals — like Trudeau’s much-maligned trip to India — and some ethical lapses, like Trudeau’s trip to a private island in the Bahamas.
And with the SNC-Lavalin affair, Scheer sought to paint Trudeau as a man unfit to govern after inappropriately pressuring his justice minister. His efforts paid off in the early months of 2019 as Liberal popular support numbers dipped significantly.
Scheer launched the campaign with a promise to make life more affordable for Canadians (“It’s time for you to get ahead” was the chosen slogan) by promising to revive Harper-era policies that were dismantled by the Liberals.
Scheer committed to a children’s fitness and arts tax credit, a public transit tax credit, a new green home retrofit tax credit and a “universal tax cut” to slash income taxes for middle-income Canadians.