OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says despite considerable infighting over his future as party leader he will remain at the helm, and as a show of how he intends to broaden its appeal he has appointed a former Liberal as his deputy.
But later Thursday he heard from several failed Conservative candidates and grassroots members of the party who said to truly achieve that, he is going to have to do some soul searching.
“Introspection is a good thing, he needs to reflect what he can offer to the party going forward,” said Carol Clemenhagen, who ran for the Tories in an admittedly difficult riding — Ottawa Centre — home to federal Liberal cabinet minister Catherine McKenna.
Clemenhagen said one reason she ran was to show that women and moderates have a place in the party. Right now, the way Scheer is articulating his and the party’s positions on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage aren’t reflecting that, she said.
“People have their own personal positions on issues, their own private positions,” she said. “The relevant point is what is the party position.”
On those positions, the party needs a far more moderate stance and a leader who can represent the people who share it, she said. Whether Scheer is that person is up to him to figure out, she said.
Scheer walked away from Thursday night’s meeting calling it a constructive evening.
“All our conversations have been very, very open and frank, and respectful,” he said.
“We are all focused on learning from what happened in the campaign and to finish the job.”
Scheer sought Thursday to prove his party is big-tent, announcing that Toronto-area MP Leona Alleslev will be his deputy leader, replacing Lisa Raitt, a longtime Conservative who lost her seat.
Alleslev was first elected as a Liberal in 2015, but crossed the floor to join the Conservatives in September 2018. At the time she said she disagreed with the Liberals’ handling of the economy and foreign affairs.
Alleslev’s riding of Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill is the kind of seat the Conservatives must win in bulk in order to form government in the next election: suburban, diverse and filled with middle-class families. Alleslev won it for the Conservatives by 1,060 votes. She’d won the seat as a Liberal with nearly the same margin.
Alleslev’s appointment is about proving the party is open to all comers, said Scheer.
“This is all about moving forward,” Scheer said.
“Leona embodies exactly the type of person that we are trying to reach out to, to show that if you have voted Liberal in the past, if you are disappointed with the government that Justin Trudeau has been providing Canadians, there is a place for you in the Conservative Party of Canada.”
Justina McCaffrey, a well-known designer who had sought to win a similar suburban riding in Ottawa, called Scheer a “nice guy” who could use some rebranding, though it might not be enough.
She said she’ll support him if he changes the team around him.
McCaffrey said they are giving him bad advice and managed local candidates too aggressively.
She pointed to an incident where she was challenged on her relationship with controversial figure Faith Goldy, now closely associated with white nationalist groups.
The two were old friends, she said, and when the Conservatives’ opponents sought to paint the relationship as more contemporary, and taint the Tories by association, she was told to keep quiet. She ran away from the media at a campaign event with Scheer.
McCaffrey said if she had had a chance, she would have said what she felt — that Goldy’s views are those of someone in “la la land.”
“I do not agree with the things she’s saying,” she said.
Those who believe Scheer has a clear path forward to retain the party leadership have been challenging to find in recent days as calls mount from prominent Conservatives for his departure.
Two campaigns have now been launched to galvanize grassroots support against Scheer in hopes of either forcing him to step aside soon, or lose a leadership review that will be held at the party’s convention in April.
One is being run by Kory Teneycke, a former spokesman for former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper. He also ran the leadership campaign for Scheer’s main rival for the job, Maxime Bernier.
Andrew Scheer is a good man.Ontario Premier Doug Ford
Teneycke also managed the successful 2018 campaign for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a wing of the conservative movement sidelined during the federal election.
Ford said Thursday he is staying out of the mix. It’s up to Scheer to show the party how he will lead them into the election, he said in Toronto.
“Andrew Scheer is a good man. He’s a good man, he worked hard, but as I’ve always said folks, I’m staying out of this federal election.”
Teneycke’s efforts will include recruiting prominent Conservatives to come out publicly against Scheer. It will be backed by advertising and media outreach to convince people they need to mobilize come April and vote Scheer out during the leadership review.
Scheer suggested the naysayers were an “unfortunate part of the conservative tradition” of infighting that rears its head after every election loss.
“I’m staying on,” he said.
“I will be making the case to our members that we need to stay united and stay focused and I will be seeking a mandate to do that in April.”
This report was first published by The Canadian Press Nov. 28, 2019.