It seems like as good a time as any to introduce readers to the man who, if a federal election had been held a few months ago, could well be prime minister of Canada today.
There won’t be an election until Oct. 21, however, so Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer faces more of a battle now to replace Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau than he did a short while ago.
Scheer and the Conservatives face at least two major obstacles to winning the next election.
One is history; as a general precedent, with circumstantial exceptions, a new party in government, whether majority or minority, gets a second chance.
In Canada, somewhat ironically, Justin Trudeau’s pappa Pierre, though Canada’s third-longest-serving prime minister, never won back-to-back majority governments.
Current polls suggest Trudeau the Younger is a safe bet for at least a minority or a very slim majority.
Even if the Liberals end up with fewer seats than the Conservatives, Trudeau would likely stay in power, since the third and fourth parties, the Greens and the New Democratic Party, are ideological cousins of the Liberals.
The other obstacle Scheer faces is more personal and hence more vexing for him. He is, in all fairness, the most undistinguished Conservative leader in recent memory.
His immediate two predecessors were in their own ways strong and even inspirational leaders; Scheer not so much.
Stephen Harper, prime minister from 2006 until he lost to Trudeau in 2015, was successful in uniting the several conservative factions on the federal scene and ruled with a certain iron will.
It took Harper three tries before he won a majority in 2011, the first time conservatives had done that since 1988, under Brian Mulroney.
Mulroney, the first-ever elected Conservative prime minister from Quebec, had youth and charisma in his favor, as well as popularity in his home province.
His governments, while activist (NAFTA being a prominent example), were plagued by scandal. His attempt to reconcile Quebec’s grievances blew up in his face, and the rising rancour across the country devastated what used to be the Progressive Conservative Party in the 1993 election and left the political right in Canada fractured into splinter parties.
Scheer is just about everything hipster hunk Trudeau isn’t, and he plays his humble background and non-elitist status as a high card.
A strong theme in his upbringing is his Roman Catholic education and values, which, translated into political currency, were instrumental in winning him the party leadership two years ago.
Scheer beat former Harper cabinet minister and quasi-libertarian Maxime Bernier by a very narrow margin. There were accusations of voting irregularities but what granted Scheer the victory, emerging from a field of leadership candidates nearly as vast as the Democratic Party, was surely the “family values” contingent of party members.
At 40 years of age, Scheer, born and raised in Ottawa, has done little else in his adult life besides conservative politics.
While some might mock Trudeau for being a ski instructor and high-school teacher, among other jobs, before he entered politics at age 36, Scheer was a political staffer before, at age 25, he became MP for a rural Saskatchewan riding.
When the Conservatives came to power in 2011, he was named Speaker of the House of Commons, based largely on his cheery personality and acceptable grasp of spoken French.
Normally, an opponent like Scheer would have been a gift for the Liberals heading into an election.
Sure, Trudeau has lost some of his lustre, as one might expect, but the Liberals were leading polls comfortably until the so-called SNC/Lavalin affair broke (see March column) and suddenly Scheer’s stock soared.
The Liberals weathered that storm reasonably well, and now it’s Scheer’s turn to face some unpleasant scrutiny.
For example, he has been denouncing for months the Trudeau government’s plan to combat climate change with carbon pricing. When he produced the Conservatives’ own environmental plan last month, it was roundly dismissed as lacking details or specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas.
Scheer’s biggest problem, though, may be one of his Conservative provincial cousins. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has become hugely unpopular since his surprise election a year ago.
With analysts agreeing almost unanimously the key election battleground will be Ontario, Scheer’s once bright hopes for big gains in Canada’s most populous province have been dimmed.
If the October election is not indeed Scheer’s time, it’s questionable Conservatives lusting to oust Trudeau will give him a second chance.
Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.