Scheer heads to Conservative heartland after a bruising week of challenges

Scheer heads to Conservative heartland after a bruising week of challenges

OTTAWA — Andrew Scheer heads into the Conservative heartland of Alberta today where he’ll make a pitch to some of the party’s most fervent supporters about why he ought to keep his job as federal leader, and how he intends to do it.

His speech to the United Conservative Party convention will come at the end of a bruising week of challenges to his leadership from across the conservative spectrum, and what he himself described as frank conversations about why he failed to win a majority last month.

The latest series of those took place at an Ottawa convention centre last night, where he heard from a range of failed candidates and volunteers in two hours worth of meetings.

“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.”

Earlier in the week, Scheer had been blasted by party supporters in Montreal, including outright calls for his resignation.

In Ottawa, the mood was far calmer and there were more overt signs of support.

Lucia Fevrier-President, who voted for Trudeau in 2015 but switched to the Tories for the 2019 election, acknowledged that there are some in the party who think he should go, but not her.

“He can stay on as leader,” she said. “The individuals I speak to, none of them want him to leave at this point. This is a minority government, we need to be able to focus on doing the work right now than what’s happening out there.”

Carole Clemenhagen, who ran in the riding of Ottawa Centre, home to a federal Liberal cabinet minister, said she was still processing her loss in what’s admittedly a tough riding.

She attributed the party’s failure broadly to Scheer’s inability to clearly articulate a distinction between his personal positions on issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights and that of the party.

“The Conservative party at heart is a centrist party, and that’s what voters want to see in a national party,” she said.

“I believe and I hope that’s the direction he will follow should he stay on as leader.”

Another Ottawa candidate, Justina McCaffery, called Scheer a nice guy, but one who failed to present a compelling enough persona to voters and was surrounded by a bad team. She said she still supports him but wants change, and she’s not sure he’s capable of it.

Mike Duggan, who ran in the riding of Hull-Aylmer, just over the river in Quebec from Ottawa, said in his view Scheer deserved to — and should — stay.

“He’s an intelligent person, he’s got good values,” he said.

Scheer had sought Thursday to move forward from the question of his leadership with the appointment of Leona Allslev as deputy leader. She was elected as a Liberal in 2015, but crossed the floor to the Conservatives in 2018. He called her role a signal to those disillusioned with the Liberals there’s a home for them with him.

Next will come the reveal of the other members of his front benches, the critics who will be charged with pressing the government on its agenda beginning with the return of Parliament on Dec. 5.

What shape that Opposition will take will be outlined in a speech later tonight at the UCP convention in Alberta, a province where the federal Tories swept every seat save one in the October vote.

But while their vote totals in Alberta hit record highs, it’s also the home of some of the most abject frustration that Scheer failed to win a majority when faced with what many believed should have been an easy win.

The speech will be his first major appearance before supporters since election night.

This report was first published by The Canadian Press Nov. 29, 2019.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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