The bottom line is that when you are literally one turkey dinner away from the vote, the last thing Andrew Scheer needs is public speculation about who will replace him when he loses.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on October 14, 2019.
OTTAWA—When a party starts public rumination about a new leader, it usually means it knows something the rest of us don’t.
The Globe and Mail’s front-page story last week about Peter MacKay’s potential move to replace Andrew Scheer could not have come at a worse time.
Canadians were chowing down on turkey and politics on the weekend, and families will likely be discussing differing viewpoints on the campaign and which party to support.
Some people like to vote for the party they think is going to win. Unless they are political ideologues, most people do not like to throw a vote away on a party that looks as though it is headed for defeat.
That’s why Elizabeth May’s retort during the last debate was the most devastating zinger of all, notwithstanding public spin on how Jagmeet Singh’s “Mr. Delay and Mr. Deny” quip posted the win.
May affirmed to the whole country that Scheer would not be prime minister, and when he protested, she offered to bet him on it.
If looks could kill, Scheer’s glare would have lasered May in half. But his own people must be giving him some of the same distressing numbers that May is privy to.
The media have been continually repeating that because of the closeness of the vote, the election is too close to call.
But for the past month, on any given day, the Liberals have been leading the Tories in seat count by at least 20 ridings.
The Globe and Mail’s front-page story on Oct. 10 about Peter MacKay’s potential move to replace Andrew Scheer could not have come at a worse time, writes Sheila Copps.
So even polling means a guaranteed Liberal win is in the offing for a week Monday. The Conservative leader’s own numbers are so strong in Alberta, and the Prairies, that anything close to a tie in popular vote means Scheer has zero chance of forming the government.
MacKay’s people must have made that calculation based on the party’s dismal numbers in Atlantic Canada. Notwithstanding the retirement of three popular Liberal incumbents, it looks like Nova Scotia is heading for a second clean sweep for the Grits.
There are similar possibilities in Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island. The only Atlantic province that appears to provide any hope for the Conservatives is New Brunswick, where the party is leading in almost half the seats. Some of them have been Conservative since Confederation except for the last election.
MacKay may also have been a little irked at the amount of ink that has been spilled in covering the Ontario campaign appearances of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
Globe columnist Konrad Yakabuski penned a piece last week, musing about how different the federal campaign would have been with Kenney at the Conservative helm.
Scheer did not join Kenney during his Ontario campaign swing, probably realizing that Kenney would overshadow him, making Scheer look weak.
The MacKay Globe story takes this potential East-West rivalry to a new level. It also sets the stage for a nasty internal battle between social conservatives, and any progressives who might be left in the Conservative Party.
After all, MacKay was a former Progressive Conservative when Kenney was happily pounding away at Reform Party and Alliance alienation themes.
Kenney has continued playing the alienation card hard as premier, even suggesting that Canadian unity could be at risk if the Liberals are re-elected.
The only potential hiccup in a Kenney return to the national scene is the current RCMP investigation into identity fraud in the team Kenney effort to merge the Alberta Progressive Conservative and Wild Rose parties into one United Conservative Party.
Five Calgary-area ministers in the Kenney government have been interviewed by the RCMP in connection with alleged fraudulent activities.
Last December, former Kenney organizer Tariq Chaudhry swore an affidavit with the office of the Alberta elections commissioner alleging irregularities. Chaudhry alleges he spent $27,000 on events and memberships for which Kenney personally promised a reimbursement that never came.
In a leadership race, it is not legal for someone else to pay for a party membership. Kenney has publicly mused about cutting the commission’s investigation budget in an upcoming round of belt-tightening measures.
Kenney’s current halo could well be tarnished by the time a national Conservative leadership rolls around.
And eastern Canadian party members might want to support a leader whose popularity extends beyond the oil patch.
The foregoing is entirely speculative but the bottom line is that when you are literally one turkey dinner away from the vote, the last thing Scheer needs is public speculation about who will replace him when he loses.
This campaign has been getting odder by the day.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.