The economy. Justin Trudeau. Free speech. His deceased mother. ISIS.
On every subject, no matter how sad or serious, Andrew Scheer would smirk. It was, well, weird. His rictus was so off-putting, we started to forget what he was actually saying.
Which, for him, was pretty fortunate. Minutes after he won the Conservative Party leadership last night, Scheer took to the stage at the Toronto Congress Centre and proceeded to give a speech that was so stilted, so stiff, it made the worst high-school student council contestant sound positively Churchillian.
Never mind that universities are wholly the jurisdiction of the provinces. Never mind that there are indeed instances where universities are perfectly entitled to object to Holocaust denial or the sexualization of children. Never mind all that.
"Remember J. Philippe Rushton?" I shouted at my TV set. "The Western University professor who taught that blacks had smaller brains and who asked his students about their genitalia for his 'research?' You OK with that kind of 'free speech,' Scheer, you perpetually grinning harlequin?"
It got worse. At one point, he talked about how important it was to be able "to have a debate about any subject."
Any subject. Smirk.
We all knew what he must be talking about. The shockingly large social conservative contingent -- the ones who had propelled anti-gay, anti-abortion candidates like Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux to near the very top of the Conservative leadership ballot -- wanted abortion and gay marriage banned again. And Scheer was saying: "I'm your guy. We'll have a 'debate' about any subject, including that stuff. Wink, wink."
Before he exited the sprawling convention centre in Toronto's west end, Scheer -- who had voted against gay equality whenever the subject came up in the House -- claimed that abortion and gay marriage weren't up for debate "under my leadership." But the damage had been done.
Everyone knew what he truly meant, however, because everyone knew who had put him over the top. So said Postmedia's John Ivison on CPAC: "If Scheer wins, it will be because of social conservatives."
Other media were on to him, too. A while ago, the indefatigable Rosie Barton went after The Smirker on her CBC show.
Barton: "But do you, yourself, believe [in gay marriage]?"
Scheer: "I, it's, look, I don't -- it's absolutely -- our party dealt with this issue in Vancouver and, you know, there was a specific policy plank in our platform, and I think members decided, a lot of social conservatives who, you know, have differing views on that decided, look, if it's not something that's ever going to be changed, it's been this way for 10 years -- I have my own personal beliefs and, you know, my own faith background, but at this point in time with the Conservative Party of Canada trying to build a national viable coalition, it's not something that --"
Barton: "But that sounds like, you're just going to, you're going to live with it. You're going to live with the fact that gay people can get married; it's not, but it's not something you believe in."
Scheer: "Look, it doesn't matter, like if people have personal views on things, there's a lot of things that divide us as Conservatives and there's a lot of things that unite us. This is one of those issues that -- it's a -- it happened in 2005, you know I was a member of Parliament at the time, I voted my conscience."
Get that? "It doesn't matter." And: "I voted my conscience." And: the most weaselly, slippery answer any politician has given since Brian Mulroney was returned to the salons of the Ritz-Carlton.
"His conscience." Smirk.
To Conservatives, Scheer was the least objectionable of an objectionable lot.
The shorthand on Andrew Scheer, when anyone paid any attention to him at all, was that he was "Stephen Harper with a smile." You'd hear it a lot.
How, exactly, is that a winning formulation, pinstriped Tory boys and girls? Stephen Harper was beaten, and soundly, by that guy you all mostly hate but whom Canadians mostly like. Did you think it was because Harper didn't smile nearly enough and Justin Trudeau smiles a lot? Seriously?
To the Conservatives, Scheer, however, was the least objectionable of an objectionable lot. Chong liked carbon taxes and had become a bit player in a psychodrama about breastfeeding. Bernier angered the lobby representing millionaire Quebec dairy farmers. Raitt was, well, a woman -- just like Hillary! Emails! -- so they picked Scheer, the grinning former Speaker of the House of Commons.
Not that it matters now, but here's one thing to consider: Andrew Scheer was the worst Speaker in generations. He was pathetic.
One time, Scheer refused to let the opposition ask questions about -- wait for it -- the Harper government's spending of taxpayer dollars. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, flabbergasted, put it best: "If the Speaker of the House of Commons is going to try to shut down questions about government business from the leader of the official opposition before he even hears the end of the question, then we've entered new territory, and I'm telling you right now I'm not going to be told to sit down on questions that have to do with the public and that have to do with government business."
That was the dimpled Andrew Scheer: quite alright with cutting off the "free speech" of those he opposed. Mr. Free Speech, only in favour of free speech for those with whom he agrees.
Anyway. The SoCon multitudes have made their choice. They wanted Trost or Lemieux or -- failing that, per John Ivison -- they wanted Andrew Scheer.
They got him.
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