Andrew Scheer speaks after being elected the new leader of the federal Conservative party at the federal Conservative leadership convention in Toronto on Saturday. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

New Conservative leader Andrew Scheer no stranger to making political history

TORONTO — Andrew Scheer is no stranger to making political history.

When he first sought federal political office in 2004, he beat out the NDP candidate who at the time was the longest serving MP in the House of Commons.

Seven years later, his Conservative party won its first majority government and Scheer, then only 32, would soon be elected Speaker of the House of Commons, the youngest person ever to hold the storied post.

On Saturday, he nabbed another place in the history books, becoming only the second leader ever of the federal Conservatives in a nailbiter win over Quebec MP Maxime Bernier.

Bernier started on his path to the leadership race years ago. Scheer’s was more recent.

In the aftermath of the 2015 election, which put the Conservatives in Opposition, Scheer gave serious thought to seeking the role of interim leader, which became available when Stephen Harper announced his resignation shortly after going down in defeat to the Liberals.

The interim job comes with a catch, warned fellow Saskatchewan MP Chris Warkentin: you can’t run for the permanent position. Warkentin looked Scheer him square in the eye and said, “Don’t do it.”

Warkentin and others were looking around at who was already testing the waters for a leadership bid. At the time, it was far from clear whether longtime party heavyweights Jason Kenney and Peter MacKay would seek the job. Challenging them would have been futile.

Once MacKay and Kenney made it clear their interests lay elsewhere, potential supporters saw a path to victory for the dimple-cheeked father of five.

Born in Ottawa but having spent his adult life on the Prairies, Scheer was a candidate of the West and central Canada. He was fluently bilingual, an asset the party needed to capitalize on its 2015 success in Quebec. And while he was young — he’s now only 38 — he had an air of gravitas that came from his years as Speaker.

“I think that Andrew has demonstrated through this campaign the things I recognized in Andrew a year ago,” Warkentin said. “He had the ability to connect with Canadians from coast to coast, and if given the opportunity to get to know him, they would put their confidence in him.”

Saskatchewan Sen. Denise Batters decided to back Scheer the very day MacKay bowed out.

She’d been a longtime supporter of MacKay’s, and said she saw similar traits in Scheer: style and substance, a perfect foil to Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“A better guy you could not find,” Batters said of Scheer. “He thinks of his country always No. 1.”

That was September 2016, and that week Scheer announced he was stepping back from his current caucus position as House leader to pursue his leadership bid.

His campaign saw him pick up dozens of endorsements from within the Conservative caucus and without; a key moment for his campaign came when Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall offered his support. Another came when farmers in Quebec coalesced around his campaign in a bid to stop Bernier.

The latter’s opposition to supply management was seen as a threat to their livelihoods; thousands of farmers are believed to have bought memberships in the party specifically to vote against Bernier.

In Saturday’s vote count, Scheer actually won more votes in Bernier’s own riding of Beauce.

Social conservatives also claim a piece of his prize.

Scheer is pro-life; though he did support the party’s decision to strike a policy opposing same-sex marriage from its handbook, it wasn’t because he supports it. It was a pragmatic decision, he’s said, stemming from the fact that the country has just moved on.

Still, his decision on same-sex marriage was one of the things that prompted fellow Conservative Brad Trost to launch a leadership campaign of his own. Trost said he believes that when he dropped off the ballot, his supporters went to Scheer.

“Social conservatives had an impact in this race,” Trost said afterward.

“We have a voice.”

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