OTTAWA — Members of the federal Conservative caucus gathered Wednesday on Parliament Hill to sift the ashes of the 2019 federal election campaign — and contemplate the future of Leader Andrew Scheer.
The meeting, which follows a casual gathering with new MPs that Scheer hosted at his official residence Tuesday night, is expected to be a long, drawn-out affair as members debate what went wrong during the 40-day campaign.
Scheer will speak to the gathering before caucus members vote on whether to adopt a series of measures that would give them more power, including the ability to trigger a leadership review ahead of the party’s convention in April.
Watch: Scheer says he welcomes tough questions following 2019 election results. Story continues below video.
Many MPs suggested Wednesday they didn’t intend to vote in favour of that rule, arguing the decision on whether to oust Scheer should rest with the broader membership of the party.
“I do not support caucus overruling the members on those kinds of issues,” said Garnett Genuis, who represents an Alberta riding.
“There will be a leadership review at the next convention that will respect members of the party that aren’t in the caucus.”
On Oct. 21, the Conservatives earned the largest number of votes since their inception in 2004, and successfully elected 26 more MPs than they had in 2015. But while they won slightly more of the popular vote than the Liberals, due to overwhelming majorities in Alberta and Saskatchewan, they lost ground in Quebec and Ontario and emerged with fewer seats: 121 to the Liberals’ 157.
They also lost some high-profile MPs, including deputy leader Lisa Raitt, whose Ontario riding fell to the Liberals. She attended the meeting Wednesday, calling it a jumping off point to examine why she and others couldn’t get elected, and not the time or place to make rash decisions about the future of the party.
“We don’t have the luxury of time, but we do have the luxury of getting it right,” Raitt said.
Raitt, and others, expressed confidence in Scheer but among some senators from Quebec — who held their own meeting Tuesday night — the feeling was not entirely mutual.
Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais said the first French debate was ``catastrophic″ for the Conservatives in Quebec, and that the party can’t win in his province as long as Scheer remains the leader.
Sen. Claude Carignan said the election was over for the party in Quebec several weeks before the first debate, when Scheer fumbled repeated questions about whether the abortion issue could be reopened under a Conservative government.
In Quebec, we lost this campaign the first week.Sen. Claude Carignan
Scheer eventually said his government would oppose efforts to legislate restrictions on women’s access to the procedure but never clarified whether he would allow individual backbenchers to propose private member’s bills on the issue.
“All the hesitation that he had in the debate and in the electoral campaign, particularly at the beginning of the campaign, created doubt in the heads of people,” Carignan said. “In Quebec, we lost this campaign the first week.”
Carignan didn’t rule out Scheer remaining as leader, but he said without changes to his team, his approach to abortion and his message in the pivotal battlegrounds of Quebec and Ontario, it will remain difficult for the party to win under Scheer’s continued leadership.
Calgary MP Michelle Rempel said Wednesday the party needs to address issues of relevance to the LGBTQ community such as the ongoing ban on blood donations from gay or bisexual men, and conversion therapy, and go beyond the issue of who does or doesn’t march in gay pride parades. Scheer does not.
“I support marriage equality, I support the rights of the community, they are my rights, we need to be actively championing them,” she said.
“I don’t want this discussion to be around symbolism.”
As to whether or not Scheer can be a leader who champions gay rights, Rempel said that’s exactly what she was heading into the meeting to begin trying to evaluate.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 6, 2019.