Daphne Bramham: Why don’t Canadians like Andrew Scheer?
Meeting Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, he seems like a good-natured, dimpled and smiling Every Man who might be good fun at a Saskatchewan Roughriders football game.
But Canadians haven’t warmed up to him.
Despite all that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has done and not done — from wearing blackface to violating conflict-of-interest rules to buying a $4.5-billion pipeline even as he claims to be a climate change warrior — Canadians still marginally prefer him to Scheer.
In fact, Canadians prefer every other leader to Scheer, whose approval rating is only 27 per cent. That’s 22 percentage points behind NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, the most popular of the bunch on the CBC’s Leader Meter.
So why don’t Canadians like Andrew Scheer?
When he met with The Vancouver Sun’s editorial board on Saturday, he was, briefly, nonplussed when asked whether he’s the nice guy we met or the mean guy whose animosity toward Trudeau was visible at the televised English-language debate.
Completely ignoring the opening question about foreign policy, Scheer called Trudeau “a phoney” and “a fraud,” who doesn’t deserve to govern Canada.
He responded by talking about his frustration that Trudeau is not being held accountable.
“I believe it was necessary to drive home the point that when you have someone who can’t tell the truth, who outright lies, who has misrepresented himself in so many ways, this is someone who does not deserve to run this country.”
On Saturday night, Canadians saw the real-life effects of polarized politics and relentless personal attacks. Trudeau wore an armoured vest to an Ontario rally and was surrounded by RCMP in tactical gear after an updated risk assessment.
Scheer called it “upsetting” in a tweet, adding that, “threats of violence against political leaders have absolutely no place in our democracy.”
When pressed to describe himself, Scheer said, “I’m often told I smile too much and I’m too nice. I believe that I am passionate and forceful. I am also a very nice guy and I believe that comes through …
“The question (in the election) is shaping up to: Who do Canadians trust?”
Scheer also has problems with truthfulness. Even thought he’s been in Parliament for 15 of his 40 years, it’s only during this campaign that Scheer has admitted that he wasn’t an insurance broker as his resume claimed and that he isn’t as Canadian as he’s made out to be. Scheer is a dual citizen, who only began the process of renouncing his American citizenship in August even though dual citizenship is something he has criticized other elected and appointed officials for holding.
In deciphering whether Scheer is the nice or the mean one, it’s worth a look back to his first campaign. As a 25 year-old recently arrived in Saskatchewan from Ottawa, Scheer defeated longtime NDP MP Lorne Nystrom. Late in that campaign, Scheer suggested Nystrom was soft on child pornography.
And if people can be judged by the company they keep, Scheer’s national campaign manager is Hamish Marshall, who once worked for the far-right Rebel Media. Earlier this year, Scheer spoke at the United We Roll rally in Ottawa that included white supremacists.
If Canadians are uncertain about Scheer, so too are Conservatives.
A social conservative, even one with dimples and a broad smile, was hardly the Conservatives’ first choice in 2017 to replace the austere and phlegmatic Stephen Harper.
Scheer won after 13 rounds of voting because he was the second choice of more people than Maxime Bernier was. Even then, Scheer managed only 50.95 per cent to Bernier’s 49.05 per cent.
Last week, The Globe and Mail reported a few high-profile members are already mulling the possibility of replacing Scheer with the more moderate Peter MacKay, a former cabinet minister. Of course, that discussion will be abandoned if Scheer can win.
But it’s a struggle. The social conservatives who helped secure his leadership have proved problematic during the campaign. The Burnaby North-Seymour riding’s executive warned the party after Heather Leung won the nomination that she ought to be disqualified because of her fringe views. When the party did nothing, they quit.
Asked about that, Scheer said he didn’t know anything about that until after The Vancouver Sun reported on a video Leung posted in which she called homosexuality “a perverted lifestyle” and talked favourably about conversion therapy. Scheer fired her two days after the story was published.
Conservatives in Port Moody-Coquitlam also complained to headquarters about the views of Nelly Shin, who the party parachuted in from Ontario. They too were ignored.
Leung, Shin and Scheer are endorsed by advocacy group RightNow, which has targeted 50 ridings where it hopes to elect candidates opposed to abortion and medically assisted dying.
Nice? Mean? Or both with one serving as a mask for the other?
If Scheer is right and voters’ final decision rests on which leader they trust most, many may conclude that the Conservatives’ own slogan applies as much to Scheer as it does to Trudeau. He’s just not as advertised.