POLITICS

Andrew Scheer Faces 'Tricky' Balance On Campaign Trail

08/25/2015 09:20 EDT | Updated 08/25/2016 05:59 EDT
OTTAWA — The day before Stephen Harper stopped in Saskatchewan, Andrew Scheer was out campaigning with his son.

Donning a Saskatchewan Roughriders golf shirt, Scheer, the Speaker of the House of Commons, got a question from his young son who had come across a word he had never seen: pessimism. Scheer's response touched on the dismal record of his football team, which was winless in its first eight games of the Canadian Football League season.

"I had to explain as Rider fans, we're always optimists and that's the opposite of pessimism," Scheer said, after Harper's event earlier this month.

Scheer has another reason to be optimistic: He's won four consecutive campaigns in his riding of Regina-Qu'Appelle and is favoured to win again.

This election, however, is different. 

For the first time, candidate Scheer is running for re-election as the Speaker. That means that while he is trying to win a seat as a partisan, he also has to maintain an air of neutrality if he wants to keep his position as the referee of the House of Commons after the election.

Scheer said maintaining that balance is "tricky."

"But at the end of the day, the NDP and Liberals are running candidates against me and they're telling people in my riding about what their parties' policies are, so I'm sure going around telling people in my riding how our low-tax plan is working for people in Saskatchewan and continue to do so," Scheer said.

Once an MP is elected Speaker, they usually sever some, but not all, ties with their party. Peter Milliken, the longest-serving Speaker in Canadian history, didn't attend the Liberal party's weekly caucus meetings, nor did he go to party conventions. During elections, he didn't attend any events where Liberal leaders stumped for votes, believing it would be "inappropriate" to be in attendance.

The late Lucien Lamoureux believed the Speaker should run as an Independent, following the tradition in Britain. He did just that twice, winning with opposition from only the NDP in 1968, and with NDP and Tory challengers in 1972.

His idea of the Speaker running as an Independent never took hold. Milliken said the idea holds some merit.

"However, that didn't work well because the other parties would want to run somebody against you," said Milliken, who contested three elections as the incumbent Speaker.

"At least during the campaign, I was a Liberal candidate and being that if I was not re-elected as Speaker once the House met, I would still be representing (constituents), doing the job" of an MP.

Milliken said the trick to campaigning as Speaker is to avoid taking stands on federal policy issues: You can say what your party's position is on a particular topic, but you don't express a position on a topic on which the party hasn't taken a stand. The same rule doesn't apply to local issues — only national ones, he said.

Milliken also said he avoided attending any events where the Liberal leader was stumping for votes, believing it was "inappropriate" given how he tried to keep a firewall between him and the party. (He rarely had the chance to do so: party leaders generally avoided his eastern Ontario riding of Kingston.)

Scheer, however, opted to attend Harper's event at a farm outside Regina where many of Scheer's supporters were in attendance to hear from the Conservative leader.

In our parliamentary system, "the Speaker does have to get elected under a party banner, and I'm proud to do that, proud to run as a Conservative in Regina-Qu'Appelle, telling all the people in Saskatchewan how our policies have helped them — whether it's the wheat board, or our low taxes — and help them make up their mind," Scheer said.

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In Photos: Canada Election 2015