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Rex Murphy: Scheer benefits as Trudeau takes tumble from sunny heights

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Conservative Leader Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks at The Royal Glenora Club in Edmonton on June 4, 2019. The dynamics of the federal election to come had their start in the tumults over SNC-Lavalin and the eventual resignations of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Joan Philpott. As many have noted, this […]


Conservative Leader Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks at The Royal Glenora Club in Edmonton on June 4, 2019.

The dynamics of the federal election to come had their start in the tumults over SNC-Lavalin and the eventual resignations of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Joan Philpott. As many have noted, this hit Justin Trudeau in several of the places where the prime minister claims to live. It more than dented his male feminism brand when two women, who were acknowledged to be leaders in his caucus, found it morally necessary to leave his cabinet. What’s a male feminist to say when his strongest women no longer want to stay in the same room with him?

There has been much more since then — merely to mention China, and the report on the MMIWG inquiry with its conclusion of “genocide,” and you have a grasp of the problems attending Trudeau’s government and his leadership in particular. It is now quite commonplace, when travelling anywhere in this country, for people to ask: “Is Mr. Trudeau going to lose the next election?” I know this is merely anecdotal, but it is equally anecdotal that people were not asking that question nearly as frequently last year.

He is severely damaged. He has lost his King Sherpa, Gerald Butts, and he gives the air in public of someone drifting and not quite being able to find his balance. If I may turn to a little meteorological fancy, he enjoyed B.C. weather for a goodly portion of his term, but now as he heads for the next vote, he’s definitely in Newfoundland.

All of which, by the familiar equation of electoral politics, is good news for Andrew Scheer. Politics is very much a leadership see-saw. If your opponent is up, you are down. Since Scheer won the Conservative leadership he has not thrilled. His has very much been a work-a-day performance. He is not particularly strong in the Commons, though through this latter period of Mr. Trudeau’s torments, he has improved. Of charisma the best that may be said is that he knows the meaning of the term, but its golden sheen has not visited him.

Speaking candidly, it must be said he does not excite any strong enthusiasms among even partisan Conservatives.

French President Emmanuel Macron hugs Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on June 7, 2019.

All of this may seem a harsh indictment, but it should also be remembered that leaders of the Opposition often “show” poorly. The office has nothing like the automatic prestige and glamour of the prime minister’s. Something transformative takes place when an opposition leader does win the big prize. It is only as prime minister that a given leader acquires in the public mind a depth or scope or seriousness that is then seen as distinguishing his leadership.

For now though, Scheer’s fortunes are largely tied to Trudeau’s. As Trudeau’s, though not to quite an equal degree, are tied to Scheer’s. In a somewhat curious, but not unique, twist they are both each other’s best hope. For example, there is no way Trudeau will return to those sunny heights, and days of socks and selfies, when the press delighted in recording his every decorous turn before the cameras. He walks the earth these days, like every other politician.

Hence the vigour and (to my mind quite overwrought) attempt to picture Scheer as intolerant and divisive, as flirting with ugly political manifestations such as “white supremacy” (the latest bugbear of the progressive fantasy factory). For Mr. Tolerance to delve into this manner of personal branding is a little discouraging, and a notable instance of a politician practicing the very politics he makes it his business to deplore.

Andrew Scheer is not some grim harbinger of dark times ahead. He is not heading to Alabama to study and imitate its new abortion protocols. He is at least as decent and pleasant and “Canadian” as Trudeau, and attacks on his person in the vein the Liberals are trying out, should be rejected with contempt.

Stay with his leadership and his policies. The main criticism I would offer is associated with his mildness and decency. He bends too quickly under attack. He seems to cater far too easily to the criticisms of his opponents. He fears a bold stand on any major issue. He seems to dread being caught in the caricature the Liberals are trying to build of him. He should dismiss it with scorn and not worthy of his intention.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks with supporters at The Royal Glenora Club in Edmonton on June 4, 2019.

Scheer can outpace Trudeau if he finds his political nerve, if he ceases his defensive and reactionary tactics. Trudeau, on the other hand, carries heavier burdens. He has to deal with the collapse of his image, the ascendant perception that he’s not quite up to the job he’s found himself in, and the various contradictions — on feminism, electoral reform, openness and transparency — between what he so lovingly talks and how he actually rules. In addition he’s brought the old charge of Liberal arrogance back to life, has roiled the country with his inexplicable policies for Western oil, and has placed a large part of Canada’s economy in jeopardy by the collision with China.

Trudeau’s only path to a second term is via a full-scale mauling of Scheer. Scheer’s path is a little more wholesome. He can attack the Liberal record. But that is not enough. He has to put some fire into his leadership, show some genuine courage in a number of policy areas, and (for heaven’s sake) stop genuflecting to his more abandoned critics.

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