The new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada had barely claimed a 13th ballot victory Saturday night when the governing Liberal Party was painting Andrew Scheer as a “far’-right” extremist who can never represent middle-of-the-road Canadians.
Liberal strategists were prepared to lock horns with Quebec Member of Parliament (MP) Maxime Bernier, who was expected to win the vote. They had already started a communications campaign that would have suggested Bernier was a dangerous “U.S.-style Tea Party” politician who was going to destroy univesal health care and marketing boards.
But the Liberals are just as happy to engage in name-calling with Scheer in charge of the official opposition.
“If you look at it, at the end of the day it was a contest between the far-right social Conservatives and the far-right economic Conservatives and the far-right social Conservatives won the day,” Quebec Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez said to CTV News. Rodriguez is also the goverment whip in the House of Commons, the office responsible for maintaining party discipline.
The problem for the Liberals is that Scheer is a politician with absolutely no known skeletons in his closet — unlike Bernier who was forced out of former prime minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet for leaving secret documents at his girlfriend’s apartment. Scheer is a married father who has spent his entire adult life in politics, either as an MP (who was also speaker of the House of Commons) or a staffer to other MPs.
Scheer is seen as a the consummate heir to Harper, a careful conservative. But he only won the leadership with the support of social conservatives who bolted to Scheer when their preferred candidate, Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost, fell off the ballot. At a news conference late Saturday night, reporters were already asking Scheer if he had any plans to introduce legislation to restrict or ban abortions — and Sheer clearly tried to distance himself from the accusations that he was in league with the party’s angry pro-life supporters.
Rodriguez says Scheer can run but he can’t hide form the so-cons. “He won because of the social conservative wing of the party so he will be under pressure to reopen those debates,” Rodriguez told CTV News.
Scheer has also pledged to stop funding public universities that refuse to defend free speech.
Liberal MP Adam Vaughan claims this means that Scheer is “somebody who wants to be in charge of the thought police,” he told CTV News.
“Academic freedom and the ability for universities to self-govern are as fundamental to the function of democracy as just about every other component of the democratic system. You cannot have free and open debate if you’re being told who should talk and who shouldn’t talk.”
The Liberals have already issued an online advertisement that suggests Trudeau is inclusive because of his fondness for attending gay pride parades while Scheer is divisive because he recently said he won’t attend parades because they’ve become too politicized.